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