Bay areas expected to boom

The landscape of Tianjin’s Binhai New Area, a key part of the Bohai Sea Rim Photo: IC

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has urged further development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Initiative highlighted in the 2017 Government Work Report. This reflects the central government’s firm support of pushing forward this top-designed and ambitious plan. The initiative, which was first discussed in 2008, now intends to emphasize the region’s role in global economic supply chains and is often compared to other bay areas such as those in San Francisco and Tokyo. Some experts have suggested that, after the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is established, more bay areas could also be considered in other Chinese regions. However, not every expert specializing in urbanization and city development agrees with the idea.

When the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area began to take shape, some experts looked beyond this region and suggested that China, like the US and Japan, could have more than one bay area serving as the engines of regional economic growth.

“The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area covers nine cities in the Chinese mainland and two special administrative regions [SARs]. If they can be integrated in spite of different systems, why not unite other regions in the mainland that have more in common [with regard to governance]?” Xu Hongcai, deputy chief economist at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), asked recently.

This newly established bay area in South China is considered a pioneer, where adjacent metropolitan areas can share and exchange resources, Xu told the Global Times on Monday.

“The bay area’s economic growth will outpace other regions, similar to how bay areas in the US and Japan have performed,” he said.

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area encompasses a total population of 100 million, with a GDP volume of over $1.34 trillion, equal roughly to the GDP of South Korea or that of Spain in 2016, China Central Television reported in April.

But bay areas in the US and Japan have different characteristics.

For example, the Tokyo Bay Area is a cluster of industries, which add up to only 3.5 percent of Japan’s total land. Nonetheless, it generates one-third of the economy’s total GDP, news site reported in April.

Bay areas are growth linchpins and drivers of innovation and can contribute to up to 60 percent of the global economy, according to media reports citing data from the World Bank.

The economic growth of the bay areas in the US outpaced that of the rest of the states for the fifth consecutive year in 2015, San Francisco Chronicle reported in September 2016, citing data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. Particularly, Silicon Valley, the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, has attracted companies from around the world and become a hub of technological innovation.

As these two bay areas are the exemplars of the world, similar Chinese regions could follow suit, such as the Bohai Sea Rim – which encompasses provinces surrounding the Bohai Sea, including North China’s Hebei, Northeast China’s Liaoning and East China’s Shandong provinces – and the Yangtze River Delta Region.

In fact, some related transportation projects, which are seen as first steps in improving connectivity in potential bay areas, have already taken place.


Mega-city cluster

The construction of a high-speed railway line connecting Beijing and Binhai New Area in North China’s Tianjin is scheduled to kick off in September. Meanwhile, the feasibility report of another line linking Binhai to Weifang, a city in East China’s Shandong Province, has been filed with the authorities, the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald newspaper reported on August 3.

Recently, local authorities also launched a study on a railway line between Weifang and Yantai, another city in Shandong. The rail transport planning is considered as significant progress in finalizing the Bohai Sea Rim railway, the report noted.

When the transportation network is completed, it will take less than two hours to travel from Tianjin to Qingdao, a port city in Shandong. Meanwhile, a tunnel more than twice the length of the Channel Tunnel underneath Bohai Bay is expected to connect Yantai and Dalian, another port city in Liaoning.

Moreover, another convenient transportation initiative will connect two major economic regions: Jing-Jin-Ji – which stands for “Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei” and is located along the coast of the Bohai Sea – and Shandong.

“It’s not the first time that Bohai Sea Rim Bay Area has been pursued. Back in the 1980s, [former top politician] Li Ruihuan advocated for the building of a cooperative system among provinces along the Bohai Sea coast, but nothing ever came of it,” Cong Yi, a professor at Tianjin University of Finance and Economics, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Hard to unify

Unlike in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area – which is also the biggest Cantonese-speaking region and a place where Guangdong Province and the two SARs have fostered close business ties over the years – provinces in the Bohai Sea Rim have less in common and less of a relationship, Song Ding, a Shenzhen-based expert from the China Development Institute, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Besides Bohai, another possible bay area is located in the Yangtze Delta Region, also known as the Hangzhou Bay Area initiative, Song noted.

“However, how to distinguish the functions and positions of different cities involved [in the Hangzhou Bay Area initiative] is a tough question to tackle,” he said.

Furthermore, East China’s Zhejiang Province is piloting a bay area partnership with Shanghai in an aim to build an innovation hub, according to the 21st Century Business Herald. The sea bridge between Shanghai and Ningbo, a port city in Zhejiang, is already improving economic activities in this region.

“To further develop other bay areas in the country, top-designed guidelines are a must-have,” Song said.

He also noted that bureaucratic administration, which is reportedly most commonly seen in northern China, would impede the further integration of different regions.

“In the Pearl River Delta region, industries are closely related to each other. For example, electronics manufacturing has a full supply chain in this region,” he said, adding that regional integration should be more market-driven rather than an administrative order.

To foster a new bay area, industries should be complementary, Xu, the CCIEE economist, noted. “Some existing projects in Tianjin should not be promoted again in Caofeidian [an industrial zone in Tangshan, Hebei] to avoid wasting time and money,” he said.

Source: Global Times

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