VIEW LI YANG Ur­ban­iza­tion means mak­ing re­gional in­te­gra­tion work

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

Re­gional in­te­gra­tion is an im­por­tant part of China’s ur­ban­iza­tion. But it re­mains an unan­swered ques­tion as to whether the govern­ment can re­ally in­te­grate ar­eas sep­a­rated for so long.

The State Coun­cil agreed to set up the first trans-provin­cial “golden tri­an­gle” de­vel­op­ment zone in the mid­dle of the Yel­low River re­gion late last month. The ap­proval ex­cited the four city gov­ern­ments in three prov­inces be­cause the cen­tral govern­ment will in­crease its fi­nan­cial in­put.

China has suc­cess­fully in­te­grated re­gions, and the Yangtze River Delta is the best ex­am­ple.

The delta re­gion gen­er­ates 18 per­cent of China’s econ­omy with 11 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion liv­ing on 2 per­cent of na­tional area. A free-mar­ket en­vi­ron­ment and free-flow pro­duc­tion fac­tors are the keys to re­gional in­te­gra­tion.

Good cli­mate and con­ve­nient wa­ter trans­porta­tion have made the re­gion the most pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural area and commercial hub since the Song Dy­nasty (960-1279). Lo­cally de­vel­oped ed­u­ca­tion has meant more tech­ni­cians, artists and ca­pa­ble of­fi­cials than in other parts of the coun­try.

The na­tional ur­ban­iza­tion plan is­sued by the cen­tral govern­ment late last month high­lighted nearly 20 city groups. The in­te­gra­tion of Bei­jingTian­jin-He­bei is one of the most note­wor­thy ini­tia­tives. The three prov­inces are fa­mous for their lo­cal pro­tec­tion­ism.

To ease Bei­jing’s en­vi­ron­men­tal and pop­u­la­tion prob­lems, Bei­jing will trans­fer some in­dus­tries it does not need to the more pol­luted He­bei and crowded Tian­jin. But the people from He­bei and Tian­jin can only work as mi­grant work­ers in Bei­jing with­out en­joy­ing lo­cal wel­fare be­cause of res­i­dencereg­is­tra­tion lim­its.

The “golden tri­an­gle” zone is arous­ing an­a­lysts’ con­cerns.

The largest sell­ing point of the ini­tia­tive is the Yel­low River. But the river is too shal­low to carry big ships dur­ing most of the year be­cause of sand and mud. And re­gions to its east and west are largely iso­lated in their cul­tures and economies.

An­a­lysts worry that re­gional in­te­gra­tion will re­sult in a new round of re­lo­cat­ing pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries to in­land China, which hap­pened be­fore the Bei­jing Olympic Games in 2008 and Shang­hai World Expo in 2010.

Be­sides, each city group un­der the plan will have at least one crowded cen­ter city. So the in­te­gra­tion will likely evolve into a new round of cre­at­ing new cities or satel­lite cities to ease the pres­sure on the cen­ter cities.

Build­ing new cities is the fastest way to boost lo­cal eco­nomic growth, and can also en­sure the govern­ment a sta­ble rev­enue source from sell­ing land.

Zuo Xue­jin, an econ­o­mist with the Shang­hai Academy of So­cial Sci­ences, thinks the over con­cen­tra­tion of in­dus­tries in one re­gional cen­ter city can­not bring about real city groups.

“The new cities and satel­lite cities should not sim­ply de­pend on the cen­ter cities. They are not cre­ated to solve the cen­ter cities’ is­sues. The new cities should have their com­par­a­tively in­de­pen­dent in­dus­tries, cre­ate their own jobs, and have their own func­tions for liv­ing and con­sump­tion, which are co­her­ently con­nected with the cen­ter cities,” Zuo said.

To se­cure the cen­tral govern­ment’s sup­port, most county and city gov­ern­ments close to the afore­men­tioned city groups have es­tab­lished spe­cial of­fices to lobby the cen­tral govern­ment to in­clude their cities and coun­ties in the planned city groups.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­search of Song Yap­ing, an econ­o­mist with the So­cial Academy of So­cial Sci­ences in Hubei, all of the six cities and 12 coun­ties he sam­pled have set up spe­cial de­part­ments to get into the city groups.

“If the govern­ment does not change its mind­set from an almighty Key­ne­sian ad­min­is­tra­tive author­ity to that of a ma­jor pub­lic ser­vice provider, it is im­pos­si­ble for China to trans­form its in­vest­ment-driven growth model,” said Song.

A pop­u­lar way to con­vince the higher author­ity is to in­vite pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties’ re­searchers to help edit the pro­pos­als of lo­cal gov­ern­ments. It is dif­fi­cult to “book” some rel­e­vant re­searchers from uni­ver­si­ties from Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Hong Kong and even Sin­ga­pore be­fore sub­mit­ting the plans.

In this sense, the nat­u­ral in­dus­try de­vel­op­ment and city evo­lu­tion have be­come an ar­ti­fi­cial process con­trolled by the govern­ment.

Among the 200 plus pre­fec­ture-level cities in China, more than 180 have pro­posed to be­come a “na­tional cen­ter city”, and dozens of them even claim they will be­come an “in­ter­na­tional mega city”.

A sim­i­lar craze ap­peared in the mid-1980s when many coun­ties were al­lowed to be up­graded to cities and towns be­came coun­ties. Many grass­roots of­fi­cials felt quite happy with the changes, be­cause their ranks were pro­moted. More civil ser­vants were em­ployed, some of whom were ac­tu­ally rel­a­tives and friends of lo­cal pow­er­ful of­fi­cials, caus­ing se­ri­ous re­dun­dancy and nepo­tism in lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Yet, the in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese cities has not come with a pros­per­ous coun­try­side, but has caused a de­clin­ing ru­ral China. Vil­lages be­come va­cant, leav­ing farm­land un­cul­ti­vated.

“Shang­hai is a good ex­am­ple for not only ag­gre­gat­ing ur­ban fac­tors, but also spread­ing the fac­tors to the whole Yangtze delta,” said Wang Yingli, a ge­o­graph­i­cal econ­o­mist with Nan­tong Univer­sity in Jiangsu.

“The Prus­sia land revo­lu­tion hun­dreds of years ago also shows the im­por­tance of let­ting farm­ers have ac­cess to ur­ban fac­tors with­out leav­ing their lands. Giv­ing Chi­nese farm­ers their over­due equal ci­ti­zen­ship is the pre­req­ui­site for ur­ban­iza­tion,” Wang said.

It is far bet­ter for the cen­tral govern­ment to in­crease its in­put in ed­u­ca­tion and med­i­cal care of the ru­ral ar­eas, than to sub­si­dize lo­cal gov­ern­ments to build new cities.

Other­wise, the lo­cal gov­ern­ments are sim­ply cre­at­ing new vil­lages in cities.

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