Winton Dong| Editor: Jane Chen | From: | Updated: 2017-06-26
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AT the beginning of April this year, the central leadership of China suddenly announced a historic decision to establish Xiongan New Area in Hebei Province.
As part of the measures to advance the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjing-Hebei region, the new area, similar to Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and Shanghai Pudong New Area, is of strategic significance to China. The area includes Xiongxian, Rongcheng and Anxin counties as well as their surrounding areas. It will eventually expand from the initial 100 square kilometers to 2,000 in the future.
Since the announcement, Xiongan quickly came into the focus of Chinese investors. We have sufficient reasons to believe that Xiongan will have a bumper and prosperous future.
Firstly, the whole country will give full support to the construction of the new area. To facilitate its preparatory work and administration, the Central Government has transferred several important officials to Hebei Province in the past year. In May 2016, Yuan Tongli was appointed executive vice governor of Hebei Province. He was former Party chief of Tianjin’s Binhai New Area. In March 2017, Shenzhen Party chief Xu Qin was promoted to provincial governor of Hebei. At the beginning of June 2017, Party chief of Guiyang City in Guizhou Province, Chen Gang, was named interim Party chief of Xiongan New Area. Judged by their former working experiences, all of the three officials are famous for developing high and new technologies and innovative industries, which are fully in line with the future orientation of the new area.
Secondly, the new area is conveniently located. Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang (capital city of Hebei Province) are all within half an hour’s commute. It is obvious that one important task of Xiongan is to help integrate the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region (one of the three most important engines of the Chinese economy together with the Yangtze River Delta region and the Pearl River Delta region) into a world-class metropolitan area. Meanwhile, the new area will also shoulder many of Beijing’s non-capital functions including the accommodations of administrative and public agencies, company headquarters, financial institutions, colleges and scientific research centers that are not related to the core functions of the capital.
Thirdly, the new area has quickly become a magnet for young talents. Previously, it was unimaginable to have job applicants from quality universities in the three counties because salaries were so much lower than in the capital Beijing and adjacent Tianjin. Even those college students whose hometowns are in the region refused to come back after their graduation. With the establishment of the new area, jobseekers from all over the country are now acting quickly to accept offers in Xiongan which they rejected without hesitation three months ago.
Despite the fact that Xiongan New Area will have a bumper future, the road to success and prosperity is sure to be bumpy and thorny.
In order to become a hotbed of innovation and an eco-friendly urban city in the future, the new area will have to undergo a painful transformation and even total reconstruction. Transformation is easy to say, but hard to enact. Many small- and medium-sized enterprises such as cable makers and garment manufacturers within the three counties produce a lot of pollution. They can meet the existing environmental standards but will surely go against the future development of the new area. Under these circumstances, such enterprises may have no choice but to relocate or finally shut down their businesses.
Meanwhile, the new area is still very poor at present. Xiongan’s current population is about 300,000 and the total GDP of the three counties combined was 20 billion yuan (US$2.9 billion) in 2016, less than 1 percent of Beijing’s economic output last year (2,489.9 billion yuan). While other Chinese cities rely heavily on land auctions and property development, the Central Government has stamped out housing sales, especially housing speculation, in the area. However, local rents there have tripled in the past three months as people from all over the country swarm in for business opportunities.
Moreover, while welcoming historic opportunities brought by the new area, many local people are still uncertain about their future. With the 366-square-kilometer Baiyangdian Lake as the center, most residents in the new area originally made ends meet by fishing or rowing tourists around the lake. To make way for the new development plan, their fishing and tourism businesses have been halted since April of this year. Living on pensions or renting out apartments may be acceptable for elderly locals. But can you imagine what the future would be like if the younger generation there all stayed idle? Old ways of making a living have already disappeared. However, new ways of making a living are yet to come.
It will take a long time for a new city to come into being. And it will be even longer for people there to adapt to the future, both physically and psychologically.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)