China's new megalopolis

opinion July 14, 2014 00:00

By Suwatchai Songwanich
Chief E

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Beijing has now grown to a city of 20 million people and it suffers from an urban malaise of air pollution, traffic jams, high costs and intense competition for resources by its residents.

A planned solution to such issues is a grand new megalopolis that would draw together Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province into a northern region economic hub called the Capital Economic Circle, also known as the Jing-Jin-Ji development plan. The Capital Economic Circle will cover an area of 216,000 square kilometres, contain a population of more than 100 million people, and have a combined GDP of over $980 billion.
If all goes according to plan, Beijing will become a more livable and attractive city and a centre for culture, international exchanges and technological innovation; Hebei will be a provincial commercial and industrial satellite with low business costs, great transport links, and high living standards; while Tianjin will be a thriving port city and high-tech industrial hub where businesses can enjoy lower land prices and labour costs. All will benefit from better logistics, complementary clusters of service and manufacturing businesses, and environmental protection.
While this project has been on the drawing board (and stagnating) for more than a decade, earlier this year it was given new life when it received the strong backing of President Xi Jinping and now has strong momentum. In March, Hebei’s provincial government announced that the city of Baoding, 140 kilometres southwest of Beijing, would take over some of the capital’s administrative functions, while Hebei’s cities and counties have changed their area codes to 010, the same as the capital city. 
Meanwhile the authorities are coordinating efforts to fight smog – Beijing’s Zhongquancun Science Park has set up a high-tech industrial park in Tianjin, and Beijing and Tianjin are working closely together to facilitate customs and reduce red tape between the two centres. Efficient transportation will be a key to future success and major developments are planned for the region’s transport networks. By the year 2020, the Jin-Jin-Ji traffic network is expected to comprise 9,500 kilometres of railways and 9,000 kilometres in expressways, and travel times between major cities in the region should be no more than one hour by train or three hours by car. 
The northern megalopolis is intended to be a third pole of growth for China, complementing the Pearl River Delta and the Yangzte River Delta. These were flagship initiatives by previous leaders. If all goes well, the Capital Economic Circle should provide a tremendous boost to the country and will be a worthy legacy of President Xi. 
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