Jilin Governor Han Changfu hosts a press conference on the Changchun-Jilin-Tumen River Pilot Zone at the State Council Information Office on Nov 18.
The State Council has approved development plans and regional cooperation in the Tumen River region of Jilin province, a pilot area selected for further reform and opening-up.
On Aug 30, after a year of research and preparation, an outline on development of the Changchun-Jilin-Tumen River Pilot Zone received formal approval.
The outline highlights the strategic position of China's important border areas in further opening the nation's trade as well as their importance as gateways to Northeast Asia and as an important new growth center of the northeast.
Han Changfu, governor of Jilin, said the pilot zone was China's first border development zone. It is expected to push forward cross-border cooperation in the Tumen River area.
Preferential policies will be adopted to promote port cooperation and the establishment of comprehensive bonded areas and cross-border economic zones, he said.
He told China Daily that the pilot area will play a pivotal role in boosting the development of Jilin, and in particular, its economic strength.
The governor noted Jilin is fully confident in developing the promising zone and continue its efforts to revive the province's economy by taking the area as a new driving growth area for the province.
Zheng Wantong, vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said the area has "broad prospects for future development as it would serve as a passageway in the Sino-Mongolian region and for northeast China".
He noted it will also aid the area's integration with Liaoning and Heilongjiang provinces and the eastern part of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
One of the few development areas along the border in China, the region is at the center of Northeast Asia, but has remained somewhat isolated.
Low levels of foreign trade have always been a weakness in the northeast's economy. Jilin is a prime example.
In 2008, the province's total imports and exports were valued at just over $13.3 billion, only 0.52 percent of the national total.
The figure was significantly lower than its contribution to national GDP, which was 1.96 percent of the total last year.
Its foreign trade ratio - the portion of its GDP from imports and exports - was 14.4 percent, far below the national average of 59.2 percent.
The newly approved two-stage development outline is expected to bring dramatic changes.
The plan calls for the Tumen River area's level of openness to progress by 2020 to the point it will have clear competitive advantages in industry as scientific and technological innovation reaches advanced levels.
The aggregate economic activity of the Changchun-Jilin-Tumen River area will quadruple as it becomes an important growth center in northeast China, according to the blueprint.
"Exploring and opening up Tumen River area is the driving force to speed up Jilin's revitalization," said Liu Shuming, director of the Macro Economics Department of Jilin Government Development Research Center.
"In 2012, the economic volume of the Changchun-Jilin-Tumen River area will have doubled," he said.
Yanbian autonomous prefecture on the border of China, Russian and North Korea is a core area of Northeast Asia Economic Circle and the Tumen River area.
"Yanbian will carefully formulate supplementary and special plans and accelerate the construction of passageways as the top priority," said Deng Kai, Party secretary of the prefecture.
Deng said Yanbian will build highways from Hunchun to Wangqing, Suifenhe and on to Russia.
The local government will make great efforts to construct the highways as the Vladivostok-Hassan highway progresses, then converge with it, he said.
It will also start construction of the Jilin-Hunchun rapid railway and accelerate building of a rail line from Hunchun to Dongning.
Wang Shengjin, vice-president of Jilin University, said people should take the construction of Changchun-Jilin-Tumen River Pilot Zone as an opportunity to promote construction of the Sino-Mongolian passageway.
When the passageway is finished, it will form a main artery linking northeast China and Europe, entirely changing the rail transport network.
It could also open up the closest passage connecting Northeast Asia with Europe and North America.
The Sino-Mongolian passageway plan also includes construction of the railway from Aershan in Inner Mongolia to Choibalsan in Mongolia, the key project linking the passageway together, Wang said.
Zheng from the CPPCC said it is crucial to open Sino-Mongolian passageway.
"Before the pilot zone was initiated, the Chinese part of the Tumen River area was mainly Hunchun, a port city in Jilin, involved in the cross-border cooperation," said Zhu Xianping, director of the Northeast Asia Research Institute of Jilin University.
The small port city of 5,145 sq km and 250,000 population had limited industrial development capacity to develop infrastructure projects that will match the cross-border cooperation, he said.
Du Ying, vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said that by bringing the two cities of Changchun and Jilin into the border zone, the zone could serve as a strategic platform to support the cross-border cooperation in the Greater Tumen Region.
Zhao Zhenqi, an assistant to the governor, said the central government has allowed the pilot zone to trial new land use and foreign financing methods, such as sharing ports and sea routes with other countries in the region and setting up free trade zones.
Under the initiative of the pilot zone, local governments in the region could better interact to tackle development bottlenecks, he said.
Xinhua contributed to the story
(China Daily 11/20/2009 page5)