Focus on Northeast China
( 2003-08-06 09:25) (China Daily)
Premier Wen Jiabao brought with him a long-awaited message to the Northeastern provinces on his third tour of that part of China this year.
Rejuvenation of the Northeast shall parallel the country's ambitious programme to develop its vast western territory, said Wen.
Echoing the Chinese Communist Party call at its 16th National Congress in November to support the transformation of the northeastern industrial base, Premier Wen told officials of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces on Monday in Changchun, capital of Jilin Province, that the central government will help the region get rid of current economic woes and return to past glories.
Such prominence is appropriate, considering the region's traditional weight in the country's economic balance.
Unlike China's largely underdeveloped west, the Northeast China once boasted agricultural and industrial sectors far more advanced than the national average.
Fertile fields and high per capita land for cultivation earned the region a reputation as the country's "Great Northern Granary." The three provinces together used to offer 40 per cent of all commodity grain products in the domestic market.
The region was also considered a key supplier of equipment in the People's Republic thanks to high concentrations of State-owned heavy industries. An abundance of oil, coal, steel, water and many other crucial resources, combined with the region's convenient transport network and proximity to the former Soviet Union, nurtured New China's earliest industrial giants in the area.
But the days of northeastern pride can now be found only in nostalgia for a bygone age.
The large-scale recession of local industries at the end of the 20th century initiated lasting debates over the "Northeast phenomenon." The nation's desperate attempts to shore up the ailing State sector took its heaviest toll in the Northeast. Bankruptcies, closures and mergers resulted in massive lay-offs, sowing seeds of instability.
In the wake of the nation's World Trade Organization membership, the region sustained another crushing blow. Imported farm goods proved to be a debacle for the local farmers.
Their higher prices, lower quality and lack of variety turned many traditional domestic clients away towards their overseas rivalries. They were hit hard in the corn and soybean markets.
Rising stockpiles and sliding earnings from farming have thrown the region's agriculture industry into jeopardy and brewed what is termed the "new Northeast phenomenon."
The once towering economic giant was down. But never out. In many senses, the Northeast still holds the key to the country's economic future.
For its unparalleled pool of manufacturing know-how and its well-trained work force alone, the country cannot afford to let the Northeast lag further behind. The nation will not benefit as long as the Northeast remains ill.
The country's appetite for industrialization requires mammoth equipment supplies. The industrial veterans in the Northeast can be a great help in that respect.
Our national strength is strong enough to offer substantial support for the transformation of old industrial bases.
A more balanced national economic picture will benefit the country as a whole.
But money alone cannot buy back a prosperous Northeast. Premier Wen has correctly put the emphasis on innovation.
The region fell because of its failure to adapt to new conditions. It has to rise from where it has fallen. And it has the support of the nation.
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