Going-west still a top development strategy
The State Council, China's cabinet, called at a work conference on Friday and Saturday for carrying out the western development strategy unswervingly.
Wen, also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, urged an all-around and coordinated development in the western regions, asking governments at all levels to continue to speed up economic and social development there.
Major tasks to develop the western regions at present and in the time to come, Wen said, should include increasing farmers' income, stepping up agricultural and rural development, protecting the environment, returning farmland to forest and pasture, and accelerating construction of infrastructure facilities.
Wen also stressed the importance of developing the western regions in other ways, such as readjusting the industrial structures and speeding up the development of public health, culture and education.
In addition, Wen urged faster reform and opening up to the outside and greater development of the non-public sector of the economy in the western regions.
China initiated the western development strategy in 2000 to help the relatively backward west catch up with the more well-off east. The strategy is supported by a series of preferential policies for the development of the western regions, including more investment, preferential tax rates and flexible policies.
In 2003, China invested about 200 billion yuan (US$24.3 billion) in infrastructure projects in the western regions, occupying 55.2 percent of the country's total annual investment in the region.
Eight key projects were completed last year, including three road construction projects, an airport extension in Shaanxi Province and four west-east electricity transmission projects.
The gigantic and technically challenging Qinghai-Tibet Railway project has stretched its track length to 317 kilometers, with 195 kilometers newly finished last year.
Another significant project is China's west-east natural gas pipeline project, starting from Tarim of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to Shanghai. The 3,900 kilometer gas pipeline used 11.65 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) last year, and brought the total fulfilled investment to 21.6 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion).