Business / Economy

Can Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei be the Rhein-Ruhr of the East?

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-05-05 10:35

BEIJING - A coordinated development program to reshape the densely populated Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region could make the region into a Chinese version of the Rhein-Ruhr, Germany's largest metropolitan area.

The program was fast tracked last week and made a major national strategy.

The Rhein-Ruhr sprawls over 4,400 square km, with a population density four times the German average. Historically, urban areas in the region were dominated by heavy industry. They pursued separate, competitive investment policies, creating an uninspiring and tepid economic environment.

The Rhein-Ruhr overcame the problems that the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is currently grappling with: wide gaps in social and economic development, and air pollution.

Even though Beijing is the capital and China's second-largest city, some areas near the city -- under the jurisdiction of Hebei province -- are classified as impoverished.

Beijing's per capita GDP hit nearly 100,000 yuan ($16,350) in 2014 while Hebei's per capita GDP is 40,784 yuan. Tianjin, a port city neighboring Beijing, saw its per capita GDP top 100,000 yuan last year.

The proliferation of premium public resources in Beijing, such as education, culture and medical services has led to a population explosion, resulting in further problems such as traffic congestion. The city is now home to more than 20 million people, many of whom are migrant workers from other parts of China.

Last February, President Xi Jinping said the capital should be a center of politics, culture, international exchange, science and innovation.

Since the 1980s, the Rhein-Ruhr has introduced policies to improve coordination among its cities and develop the region holistically. Once synonymous with heavy industry and pollution, the region is now a preferred destination for clean industries, according to Shi Shiwei of Beijing's University of International Business and Economics.

Unbalanced development in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei has left the region somewhat behind its economically advanced peers in South China, including the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas.

The strategy will see the relocation of nonessential functions from Beijing, which will adjust the regional economic structure, streamline the development model and nurture new growth sectors, according to a statement released after a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee on Thursday.

The statement also identified population size, traffic management, environmental protection, industrial transfer and upgrading as key areas. Public services will be improved and the region will be made into a more comfortable environment for foreign enterprises. Innovation will be encouraged.

As the world's second-largest economy slows, the program is designed to add momentum to growth. The National Business Daily reported on Monday that the coordinated development plan is expected to attract up to 42 trillion yuan of investment over the next six years, based on an estimate by the Ministry of Finance.

Some major projects reflecting the coordination have already been revealed, including a new 80-billion-yuan airport to be built in southern Beijing on the border with Hebei.

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