Promoting coordinated development among regions is included in the Report of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party, drawing a blueprint of the goal of the regional planning.
"The four strategies promoted in the Report: Regional Coordinated Development Strategy, Major Regional Strategy, Main Functional Area Strategy, New Urbanization Strategy, are addressing different issues, yet they are all connected." Chairman of China Land Economics Association, and Former Director of the National Land Development and Regional Economic Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, said during the interview.
He explained that the Regional Coordinated Development Strategy aims at shortening the differences and imbalances between regions. The Major Regional Strategy is trying to resolve the internal structural issues and the external radiation driven problems. The goal of the Main Functional Area Strategy is to bring a better zoning. The New Urbanization Strategy is to rebalance the population distribution among different regions.
Xiao also said that we should focus on the marginal areas. They are areas near the boundaries of provinces. These areas need new mechanism to accelerate the development. The solution for that is to establish economic zones, to let the municipal zones and economic zones both drive the development.
Xiao is also following the development of the frontier areas. He believes that the prosperity of the frontier areas needs supports from the country, by building industrial development platforms in central cities of the border areas to agglomerate industries and population.
Pengpai News: The Report of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party brings out the Regional Coordinated Development Strategy, Major Regional Strategy, Main Functional Area Strategy, and the New Urbanization Strategy. What are these four strategies trying to resolve separately? And how are they connected?
Xiao Jincheng: The fourth part of the Report is called "Accelerating the construction of a new development pattern and promoting high-quality development". This is the way to achieve Chinese-style modernization. Under this framework, there are five key points, and the fourth of them is promoting coordinated development among regions, by implementing the Regional Coordinated Development Strategy, Major Regional Strategy, Main Functional Area Strategy, and the New Urbanization Strategy. The four strategies were discussed separately in the former party congress, and now they are put together in the Report because the strategies all reflect the idea of regional development. These four strategies are parallel yet connected, addressing different issues. The Regional Coordinated Development Strategy aims at shortening the differences and imbalances between regions. The Major Regional Strategy is trying to resolve the internal structural issues and the external radiation driven problems. The Main Functional Area Strategy is to bring a better zoning. The New Urbanization Strategy is to rebalance the population distribution among different regions. The common goal of these four strategies is to promote regional high-quality development and fulfill the Chinese-style modernization.
Pengpai News: The economic division of the west, northeast, central and the east has been implemented for years. Are there any new changes on the goal and the focus of their developments?
Xiao Jincheng: The goal of the Regional Coordinated Development Strategy is to shorten the differences and imbalances between regions, but how? The Report suggests to "promote the development of the west region, promote the revitalization of the northeast, accelerate the rise of the central region, and encourage the eastern region to accelerate the speed of modernization". This is respectively correspondent to address the lagging behind of the west, the stagnancy of the northeast, the structural imbalance of the central part, and the expansion of the east. These four initiatives are problem-oriented, to address the main issues of the four regions respectively. Another important issue the strategy targets on is the poverty in the old revolutionary base areas, ethnic minority autonomous areas, land border areas and underdeveloped areas. Even though we already addressed the issue of absolute poverty, but the issue of relative poverty still exists. And the old revolutionary base areas, ethnic minority autonomous areas, land border areas and underdeveloped areas are embedded in each other, which points to the basic idea of the strategy, that shortening the differences and imbalances between regions needs multiple ways.
Pengpai News: You mentioned before that the Major Regional Strategy focus on the urban agglomerations and the drainage basins. How do we understand their features and problems?
Xiao Jincheng: The Major Regional Strategy is trying to resolve the internal structural issues and the external radiation driven problems, and the goal is to promote high-quality development. It includes six strategies, and four of them focus on urban agglomerations, including the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, Yangtze River Delta, Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and the Chengdu-Chongqing Economic Circle. Three are in the east, and one is in the west. The three urban agglomeration areas in the east are the most developed areas, but inconsistencies exist within them. For example, in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, the problem of Beijing is unlimited expansion. By contrast, there is a big gap between Hebei and Beijing or Tianjin. The problem of the Yangtze River Delta is about imbalance. The urban agglomeration of the Yangtze River Delta is highly developed, but there is a big difference between the Yangtze River Delta and the Northern Jiangsu, Southern Zhejiang and Anhui nearby. As for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, there are two aspects of its problem. One is the integrated development of Hong Kong, Macau and the Pearl River Delta. It is necessary to give full play to the advantages of Hong Kong and Macau while solving the existing problems of them. The other is to benchmark the world's three major bay areas and improve international competitiveness. The Chengdu-Chongqing area is relatively developed in the west, and the development conditions are relatively good. I call it "the coast that is not a coastal area". How to integrate the Chengdu-Chongqing urban agglomeration into the world pattern, to lead and drive the development of the west, involves the formation of a new pattern of the western development mentioned before.
Another two strategies focus on the drainage basins, which are the Yangtze River Economic Belt and the Yellow River Basin. The Yangtze River is a golden waterway, including nine provinces and two cities. The area of it is 20% of the country, contributing 40% of the country's GDP, and its population is also 40% of the total. It seems that its population and GDP are balanced, but structural problem exists. That is the large gap between its downstream, midstream and upstream. The economic volume of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River is relatively large, and the economic development of the middle reaches, especially the per capita GDP is relatively lower. The gap between the upper reaches of the Yangtze River and the lower reaches is even greater. The gap between Yunnan, Guizhou and Chengdu-Chongqing (they are all cities in the upper reaches), is relatively large as well. Therefore, it's important to promote the high-quality development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, not to mention that the Yangtze River traverses the east, middle and west. If the development gap between the middle reaches, upper reaches and the lower reaches of the Yangtze River can be narrowed, it will be conducive to coordinated regional development. Moreover, the growth potential of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River is still great. But the Yellow River is different. It is not an economic belt. The development of the upper and middle reaches is limited due to insufficient water resources and fragile ecology. However, there are four urban agglomerations around the Yellow River. They are the Shandong Peninsula urban agglomeration, the Central Plains urban agglomeration, the Guanzhong urban agglomeration, and the Lanzhou-Xining-Yinchuan urban agglomeration. Focusing on these four urban agglomerations will guarantee the high-quality development of the Yellow River Basin. In addition, there are several metropolitan circles in the "Ji-chatacter Bend" of the Yellow River. By promoting cooperation and development within the metropolitan circle, high-quality development can be achieved.
It is worth noting that the Xiongan New Area, which is the new economic growth pole of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, was mentioned in the Report, just like Shenzhen is to the Greater Bay Area and Pudong is to the Yangtze River Delta. Of course, development takes time, and the Xiongan New Area is still under construction.
Pengpai News: How do we understand the Main Functional Area Strategy? What is its role in the regional development?
Xiao Jincheng: The Main Functional Area Strategy derived from the Main Functional Area Planning, which was originated from the Land Planning. It solves the issue of rational distribution of space. China began to study and compile national land planning since 1980s. During the Eleventh Five-Year Plan period, the Main Function Zone Planning was compiled. The purpose is to achieve rational layout of regional economy, to determine the industrial layout and population distribution according to the carrying capacity of resources and environment and optimize the development pattern of national land space. It is a new concept to speed up development where it is suitable for development and protect the areas where it is not suitable for development. This requires the identification of the country's 9.6 million square kilometers of land. This is a huge project. For example, in a city, a county, or a township, it is relatively easy to determine which places are suitable for development and which places are not, but it is almost impossible to make such a detailed national plan. Therefore, it is necessary to upgrade the Main Functional Area Planning to the Main Functional Area Strategy, so that it can be implemented by cities, counties, and townships, and carry out the concept and principle of the main function area.
Pengpai News: The Report proposes to promote a new type of urbanization which is "people-centered". How to understand the meaning of "people-centered"?
Xiao Jincheng: The implementation of the New Urbanization Strategy is to address the issue of population distribution and the quality of urbanization. In fact, urbanization is always about the urbanization of people, not the urbanization of land. Our understanding of urbanization in the past was inaccurate. The emphasis on "people-centered" urbanization now is to correct our wrong understanding in the past. Someone who used to be engaged in agriculture in the countryside, are now engaged in the secondary and tertiary industries in cities. This is the process of urbanization. Cities provide more jobs due to industrialization. Meanwhile, the modernization of agriculture leads to less requirement of labor. The attractiveness of cities and the push of the countryside have jointly promoted the urbanization. It addressed the issue of unreasonable distribution of urban-rural population. At the same time, a considerable number of rural laborers migrate across provinces to seek jobs in developed areas. Rationalizing the regional population distribution promotes the coordinated regional development.
What's the problem of rapid improvement of urbanization? People have left the countryside, but can they stay in the city? How's life in the city? For example, there are now more than 200 million migrant workers who do not have urban household registration and have no access to the public services as urban residents. Their salaries are relatively low, and they are likely to return to the countryside. This will bring many problems. Firstly, it will lead to insufficient labor supply in cities, which in turn will lead to an increase in labor costs. It will have a great impact on industrialization. The second problem is whether a large number of people returning to the countryside can find suitable jobs, and whether they can get the same income as in the cities. Will the level of urbanization fall instead of rising? Urbanization is necessary to modernization, and reversed urbanization is not our goal. Therefore, the issue of high-quality development also exists in urbanization. Many people believe that urbanization equals urban construction. A lot of money has been spent on urban construction, but the problem of migrant workers has not been solved. This is a big mistake. Building a beautiful city is making urbanization more difficult, preventing many families of migrant workers moving into cities. There are tens of millions of "left-behind children", "left-behind women", and "left-behind elderly". If this problem is not resolved, it will be the biggest threat to modernization, so the New Urbanization Strategy is not only a regional strategy, but also a national strategy.
Pengpai News: City agglomerations and metropolitan areas are platforms for regional integration. You mentioned that the gap between the inner and outer urban agglomerations reflects the regional economic gap. What are the specific manifestations of the inner and outer urban agglomerations? And what are the solutions?
Xiao Jincheng: The gap between the inner and outer urban agglomerations reflects the regional economic gap. What needs to be clarified here is that there are standards for urban agglomerations, and an urban agglomeration is not randomly picked. Urban agglomeration is an area with relatively dense cities, industries and population. It is a relatively developed economy. Urban agglomerations are not planned but formed by nature. Why do we emphasize this? Because there are differences between urban agglomerations and non-urban agglomerations, and the differences are obvious. According to estimates, the area of urban agglomerations accounts for about 20% of the country, and its GDP and population account for about 70% and 50% of the country, respectively. It is clear that urban agglomerations are the backbone of our country's economic development. But it also reflects a problem, that is, 80% of the land in the country is inhabited by less than half of the population outside the urban agglomeration, and it accounts for less than 30% of the GDP. Narrowing the gap between the inside and outside of the urban agglomeration promotes the coordinated regional development. In addition to narrowing the "numerator" gap, we can also focus on the "denominator". That is, 20% of the population moves into the urban agglomeration, and the regional coordinated development will be promoted. In the future, the urban agglomerations accounting for 70% of the GDP, will also account for 70% of the population. The areas outside the urban agglomerations will account for 30% of the GDP and also 30% of the population, basically achieving a match between GDP and population. In addition, the urban agglomeration also shows the spillover effect, playing an important role in leading surrounding areas. In the Report, it is proposed to build a regional economic layout and land space system with complementary advantages and high-quality development. My point of view is to plan the economic zone with the urban agglomeration as the core. The leaded areas will expand continuously, driving the entire economic zone. The land space system should not be separated from each other. In order to achieve integrated development, the development should expand from the inner areas to the outer areas, leading and driving the surrounding areas. This is also a feasible way to optimize the development pattern of the land space.
When it comes to metropolitan areas, they are either inside or outside urban agglomerations. The metropolitan areas outside the urban agglomerations can play the role of being the core cities and drive the development of the surrounding areas, building areas of integrated cities. There is also a large part of the areas which are both outside the urban agglomeration and the metropolitan areas, so it is necessary to for these areas to play the role of the central city. There are a certain radiation range of each city. The larger the city, the larger the radiation range. Through these methods, coupled with the administrative support and the financial transfer payments of the national, we can achieve the coordinated regional development of the whole country.
Pengpai News: You mentioned earlier that we should pay attention to the border areas and inter-provincial border areas. What are their characteristics? Are there new development paths for these marginal and border areas?
Xiao Jincheng: There is a theory in regional economics called the core-periphery theory. This issue is more prominent in our country now. That is, the provincial capital cities are relatively large in scale, forming a metropolitan area. The economies around the provincial capital cities are relatively developed, and the development of small cities and small towns is also good. But areas which are farther from the provincial capital, are more undeveloped. Therefore, the provincial fringe areas and the inter-provincial border areas are relatively more undeveloped, such as the junction area of Shanxi, Hebei, Shandong and Henan, the junction area of Jiangsu, Shandong, Henan and Anhui, and the junction area of Hunan, Hubei, Chongqing and Guizhou. Most of the inter-provincial border areas are underdeveloped areas, and many of them are old revolutionary base areas. It is difficult for these places to develop without a new mechanism. There are many reasons for the underdevelopment. One is the natural geography. The second reason is the administrative division. Therefore, it is necessary to establish a unified national market, break the administrative division, and establish a mechanism of cooperation. The third reason is the division of the urban and rural areas. In the border areas, the cities are small, and the rural areas are large. The development of the urban and rural areas is imbalanced, and it is difficult to evaluate the value of agricultural products. This requires the city to develop in the first place. With a large population and a large scale, the consumption of agricultural products will increase, and the regional development will be driven by the central city.
It should be noted that administrative districts are historically formed, with crisscrossed borders. The economic development was not an important factor when they were established. The barrier of the administrative division can be eliminated through the establishment of economic zones. Economic zones are interrelated and interdependent, so we propose a "dual-wheel drive" of administrative regions and economic zones to jointly promote coordinated regional development.
Pengpai News: Can you talk about the issue of regional development you have been researching recently?
Xiao Jincheng: Many points of views mentioned before has weaknesses. Take population mobility as an example. We advocate population mobility and reduce the "denominator" of the population in undeveloped areas. People go to work and live in developed areas, but what about rural areas? What about underdeveloped areas? And the biggest question and concern is: what to do with the frontier? This is a weakness of spatial economics and regional economics theory. Now the country supports the development of border areas, but I think it is not enough, because the border line is very long, and the area is very large. Transfer payments can make them "fed", but it is difficult to make them rich. I organized several experts to conduct research on how to stabilize and enrich, strengthen and consolidate the border. I wrote several reports on accelerating the development of border areas, including the border areas in Northeast China, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan, and Guangxi, to develop a certain number of cities of a certain scale in the border areas, to attract investors, develop industries, gather population, improve the living standards of residents in the border areas, and prevent mass loss of population.
Translated by He Huiling