Sus­tain­able axis of growth De­vel­op­ment of the Yangtze River val­ley would open up in­land ar­eas and help re­al­ize the Silk Road eco­nomic belt

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang urged the de­vel­op­ment of an eco­nomic belt along the Yangtze River in April to pro­vide new de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the coun­try’s cen­tral and western re­gions and pro­vide a new and im­por­tant driv­ing force for the sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of the Chi­nese econ­omy.

The Yangtze River, China’s largest in­land river, orig­i­nates in the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau and runs west to east for 6,300-plus kilo­me­ters through nine prov­inces, one au­ton­o­mous re­gion and one mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Hun­dreds of trib­u­taries along the river ra­di­at­ing north­ward and south­ward cre­ate a val­ley area of more than 1.8 mil­lion square kilo­me­ters, nearly one-fifth of China’s to­tal land area. Sit­u­ated along the Yangtze River are Chongqing, Wuhan, Nan­jing and Shang­hai, mega-cities that en­joy huge ad­van­tages in talent and mar­ket re­sources.

The de­vel­op­ment of the Yangtze River val­ley has al­ways been viewed as a key na­tional task due to its im­por­tant strate­gic sta­tus. An ini­tial plan was drawn up for a Yangtze River eco­nomic belt to be an axis of na­tional eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the Sev­enth Five-Year Plan (198690). How­ever, com­pared with the re­mark­able progress of the coastal re­gions that formed the other axis, the re­gions along the well-con­ceived Yangtze River eco­nomic belt have failed to make full use of its ge­o­graphic ad­van­tages to push for­ward open­ing-up to the out­side. Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment along the river is tan­gi­bly un­even, with an ob­vi­ous gap among the boom­ing Yangtze River delta area and re­gions west­ward.

The fresh em­pha­sis the State Coun­cil has put on build­ing a Yangtze River eco­nomic belt, which has come amid China’s eco­nomic slow­down, is aimed at fur­ther openingup the vast in­land ar­eas and guid­ing some of the flow of mar­ket re­sources from the east­ern re­gion to the cen­tral and western ar­eas and thus form­ing a mu­tu­ally in­ter­con­nected de­vel­op­ment pat­tern be­tween them as a way to bol­ster a new eco­nomic take­off for its less-de­vel­oped in­land re­gions.

Af­ter 30-plus years of re­form and open­ing-up, China has wit­nessed boom­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in its coastal, Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas and Bo­hai Sea-rim ar­eas in­clud­ing Bei­jing and Tian­jin. How­ever, the vast swathe of its in­land prov­inces still re­mains less de­vel­oped or even back­ward. This im­bal­ance has ex­erted dif­fer­ent pres­sures on de­vel­oped and un­der­de­vel­oped ar­eas.

The large-scale flow of people from the in­land ar­eas to the eco­nom­i­cally pros­per­ous re­gions has re­sulted in a dras­tic ex­pan­sion of the cities in the east­ern re­gion adding to the lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. Mean­while, the out­flow of la­bor and some mar­ket re­sources from the less-de­vel­oped re­gions to more at­trac­tive ar­eas has fur­ther added to their eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tages. Un­der these cir­cum­stances, the re­freshed ef­forts to build the Yangtze River eco­nomic belt will help trans­fer some in­dus­tries and re­sources al­ready un­suit­able for coastal re­gions to cen­tral and western ones in need to in­ject a new vi­tal­ity into their eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The re­vived plan for a Yangtze River eco­nomic belt came af­ter the plan put for­ward by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping for the in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment of Bei­jing, Tian­jin and neigh­bor­ingHe­bei prov­ince. The in­te­grated strat­egy for the three re­gions is also aimed at trans­fer­ring some over-con­cen­trated re­sources and in­dus­tries from the bet­ter-de­vel­oped and over-bur­dened Bei­jing to less-de­vel­ope­dHe­bei, so that the prov­ince can share the div­i­dends brought about by the cap­i­tal’s re­sources spillover.

If smoothly ad­vanced, the Yangtze River eco­nomic belt is also ex­pected to help fa­cil­i­tate the build­ing of the Silk Road eco­nomic belt, a con­cept that has been raised by China and in­volves sev­eral coun­tries. De­spite pos­i­tive re­sponses from some Cen­tral Asian and Euro­pean coun­tries, the re­al­iza­tion of a Silk Road eco­nomic belt will take time given that lengthy and in­tri­cate co­or­di­na­tion is still needed to bal­ance the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­ter­ests of coun­tries con­cerned.

A Yangtze River eco­nomic belt will bring tan­gi­ble eco­nomic ben­e­fits to China’s in­land ar­eas and help bring the coun­tries of the pro­posed Silk Road eco­nomic belt to­gether. At the same time, the smooth ad­vance­ment of the Silk Road eco­nomic belt will pro­duce an im­por­tant propul­sive force for the boost­ing of the Yangtze River eco­nomic belt. The au­thor is a Shang­hai-based eco­nom­ics com­men­ta­tor.

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