China dusts off Bohai Bay hub plans

PHOTO: China dusts off Bohai Bay hub plans

CHINA - China is considering plans to build a trilateral economic sphere in the Bohai Bay area, thus upgrading regional cooperation between Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province.

The three places have submitted proposals to restart the initiative, which had been shelved for nearly a decade, said Mr Zhang Zhiqiang, head of the Tianjin Development and Reform Commission.

The Bohai Bay area is considered China's third economic engine, alongside the Pearl and Yangtze river deltas.

A final blueprint covering issues such as logistics, tourism and environmental protection will be drafted based on the three proposals, with input from experts, industry insiders and central-government departments, Mr Zhang said.

Development of the area has been discussed since the 1980s, and the State Council set up a working group in 2004 to draft a development plan. A draft of the plan was completed in 2006, but no progress has been made since.

"To achieve sustainable development, Beijing has to figure out a way to relocate its ever-growing population and its polluting industries," Mr Zhang said. Tianjin and Hebei can play a role in helping Beijing attain its development goal, he said.

Tianjin, a port city, is linked to Beijing by several highways and a high-speed railway. Hebei, a traditional industrial and transportation hub with rich natural resources, surrounds Beijing and Tianjin.

"Economic cooperation in the area is far from enough. There is a lot of potential to be unleashed," Mr Zhang said.

President Xi Jinping visited Tianjin in May and urged the three places to push forward with regional cooperation.

Mr Zhang said the three places face an unprecedented opportunity in regional cooperation, but conflicting interests must be taken into account.

According to an urban-development plan approved by the State Council in 2006, Tianjin is to be developed into an "economic centre in northern China" and an "international shipping hub".

However, Dr Yang Kaizhong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said that Tianjin's economic growth lags far behind that of Beijing, which makes the positioning unrealistic.

"Does North China include Beijing?" he asked.

"If so, does it mean that Tianjin should surpass the capital in terms of economic development? It is not an easy task for Tianjin to accomplish."

Dr Yang also said the three places have yet to clarify their roles in regional development.

Tianjin and Hebei also have conflicting interests in infrastructure such as ports, where there is more competition than cooperation.

As Tianjin strives to build itself into an "international shipping centre", Hebei is quickly catching up.

Mr Ren Lisheng, deputy manager of General Cargo Branch at Caofeidian, a port in Hebei, said the province has an edge over Tianjin in terms of deep-water berths.