A newly published speech by President Xi Jinping has shed light on the direction of urbanisation in China, including limitations on the size of cities to prevent overcrowding and the development of urban clusters on the east coast.
China must control population density in its major cities, Xi said in a speech delivered on April 10, a transcript of which was published in the latest edition of Qiushi, an official Communist Party journal.
“It’s an economic law that industries and populations will concentrate in advantageous regions. But the size of any single city cannot expand indefinitely,” Xi said.
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“The main urban areas of Beijing and Shanghai have a population density of over 20,000 per square kilometre (7,722 square miles), in comparison to about 13,000 people in Tokyo and New York.”
The economy of scale shouldn’t be the only factor to consider in terms of urban development. Instead, ecology and security must receive a higher priority
Xi’s dislike of overcrowding in Beijing is well-known. It resulted in the president ordering the Beijing municipal government to relocate most of its operation to a new city in Xiongan, about 40km east of the capital.
“The economy of scale shouldn’t be the only factor to consider in terms of urban development,” he said. “Instead, ecology and security must receive a higher priority. Economic, living, ecological and security demands must be well coordinated.”
In the speech, Xi also said China’s eastern coastal regions should develop city clusters, or a group of neighbouring cities connected by extensive transport networks.
Inland western regions should avoid concentrating resources in a central city, usually the provincial capital, he added.
Though the comments provide a window into Xi’s thinking on China’s evolving urban landscape, they have arrived too late for many provinces.
According to official statistics, in at least 10 out of the mainland’s 31 provincial level jurisdictions, more than 30 per cent of the province’s economic output is concentrated in the provincial capital, sucking resources from neighbouring areas and causing wealth inequality.
In Ningxia, for instance, the capital of Yinchuan accounted for 50.6 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, while Changchun, the capital of Jilin, accounted for 50.3 per cent of provincial GDP last year.
Elsewhere, the provincial capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, has an economy worth 1.7 trillion yuan (US$253.6 billion), five times larger than the province’s second city of Mianyang.
Tianfu New District, a new technology development zone planned in Chengdu, will increase its population by 6 million to 8 million people over the next two decades, in part by attracting talent from neighbouring cities and widening the provincial economic gap.
“China has 1,881 counties or cities. It’s widely known that farmers buy homes in county towns. We need to select some county towns to boost their development and make them strongholds for boosting domestic demand,” Xi said.
China’s new “dual circulation” strategy, which aims to drive future growth through domestic consumption, was revealed a month after Xi gave the speech.
More than 60 per cent of China’s population lived in urban areas in 2019 and the number will continue to rise, Xi said.
China has planned a number of “city clusters” nationwide to drive urbanisation, including the Greater Bay Area that includes Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen; the Yangtze River Delta that includes Shanghai; as well as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Chengdu-Chongqing inland city cluster.
Wang Jun, chief economist of Zhongyuan Bank, said Beijing’s regional development strategy is a typical mixed approach of market forces and state planning.
“Market rules are now the baton because metropolitan cities, except Beijing, are relaxing rules to attract talent and industries,” he said.
This article Xi Jinping’s thoughts on China’s urbanisation revealed in new speech first appeared on South China Morning Post