Now China is preparing for a new megacity, Jing-Jin-Ji, combining Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, the neighboring provincial capital Baoding is hoping to ride on the bandwagon too. Journalist Ian Johnson visited Baoding for the New York Times and looks at its chances.
But transforming Baoding will be a challenge. The region is relatively poor, with few natural economic advantages beyond coal mining. That has led to the development of the world’s biggest concentration of heavily polluting coking and steel factories. Even though Baoding itself has no heavy industries, pollution from nearby cities has given it the worst air in China.
The risks of such down-market economic development are also apparent in nearby Tianjin, which became a center for dirty chemical industriesrejected in many other parts of China. Last month, a massive chemical firedestroyed part of Tianjin’s Binhai New Area port, one of the pillars of the Jing-Jin-Ji plan.
The effort to redeem Baoding has echoes in the past. It was once the capital of Zhili Province, made up of today’s Hebei Province and Tianjin. A key military and political stronghold in imperial China, Baoding was famed for its dates, persimmons and sesame oil. (The donkey burgers came later.) But this agricultural focus did not sit well with the Communists, who took power in 1949 and favored heavy industry…
Now, planners hope to fix Baoding’s economic deficits by fiat. Their solution is to use infrastructure and powerful administrative structures to push industry out of Beijing and into surrounding cities like Baoding. A key step came in May when China’s cabinet, the State Council, approved Baoding’s expansion from 120 square miles to 850 square miles, or nearly three times the size of New York City.
When the issue of expansion was raised last year, it caused an increase in Baoding’s real estate prices, with speculators hoping that the government would move some ministries or bureaus here.
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Earlier Ian Johnson explained the background of the new megacity and the possibilities for foreign companies to join the bandwagon