China’s proposed Beijing super-region

31 Jul

One of the bigger plans that President Xi Jinping proposed this year was the integration of Beijing with Tianjin and Hebei province into a more unified region. Beijing and Tianjin are both municipalities, while Hebei is a province that surrounds both cities.

The integration will supposedly help Beijing by reducing its population and air pollution (as well as Tianjing’s), while also helping Hebei develop, by spreading out industries and resources among the three places more efficiently and boosting the region’s prosperity and development.
This would also help Beijing increase its control over surrounding regions like Hebei specifically and reduce the power of local leaders, whose “every region for itself” mentality results in inefficiency, overindustrialization, and local power fiefs. However, besides economics and control, a big goal would be to boost the prosperity of Hebei, which is China’s leading steel producer but still a relatively low-income province (16th in GDP per capita among mainland China’s 31 regions) despite surrounding both Beijing and Tianjin. As a researcher in the article says “That there are so many poverty-stricken people on the outskirts of such big cities is outrageous – the surrounding regions of big cities are normally highly developed,” he said at a conference in the steel-making city of Tangshan last month.”

However, despite the hype about megacities, it will be a huge challenge and there’ll be a lot of things to do. As the researcher in the SCMP article states, “Unlike in the Yangtze River or Pearl River deltas, cross-regional cultural and economic ties in Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin are effectively being created from scratch, Zhang said.” 

While Beijing (21 million) and Tianjin (14.7 million) are major cities with a good level of development, Hebei is a province of over 70 million and largely dependent on iron, steel and manufacturing. It is also one of China’s most polluted regions, which says a lot, with 7 out of China’s 10 most polluted cities. Ironically Beijing is moving several of its capital-intensive and pollution-causing industries and hundreds of firms out to Hebei, thus increasing the pollution in heavily-polluted Hebei, which doesn’t seem so smart. The central government also suggested it would move a few government ministries and state firms to Hebei, specifically the city of Baoding, which resulted in a temporary home-buying boom before eventually calming down.

The integration idea makes sense because Beijing really is too crowded, polluted and inefficient in taking up a lot of social resources, while the economic inequality between it and Hebei is vast. It’s something that should have been implemented in the past, especially as Beijing’s problems didn’t just happen overnight.

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