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New Strategy to Develop the Central Region

A new strategy to develop China's central region was discussed at a high profile forum in Henan Province on Thursday, following in the footsteps of endeavors to develop its vast western region and rejuvenate its northeast industrial base.
"2005 is the first year during which specific planning will be made for the new strategy," said Liu Yingjie, an official from the State Council's Policy Research Office, "Local governments in the central region will make their own plans accordingly."
"The timing and the content of the new strategy deserves our great expectations," said Han Qide, vice chairman of Standing Committee of National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, in his opening remarks at the Forum on Promoting the Development of the Central Region held in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital.
Approximately 200 officials, strategists and academicians attended to confer on the strategy for the region, home to about 360 million people and comprising the provinces of Shanxi, Anhui, Henan, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan.
Researchers at the forum and sources close to the State Council said that the implementation of the new strategy will be one of the central government's major tasks for this year.
Covering 1.02 million sq km, 10.7 percent of China's total area, the region produces 23 percent of its GDP.
China's major grain producer, the region has lagged behind the country's economic boom of recent years, not only with a widening gap between it and the economically developed eastern coastal areas, but also when compared to the western region.
A report on medium and long-term development plan made by the Ministry of Science and Technology said per capita GDP in central China was 88 percent the national average in 1988, dropping to 83 percent in 1990 and to 75 percent in 2003. In terms of GDP volume, the gap between central and eastern regions rose by a factor of six in the past two decades. 
In contrast, the west and northeast, two regions once plagued by slow economic growth, have picked up the pace of economic expansion thanks to development strategies.
Since the strategy of developing the central region began a year ago, central and provincial governments have scaled up research into its feasibility and supporting policies with the help of institutions like the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the State Council's Development Research Center.
Strategists acknowledged it was unrealistic and impossible for the central region to enjoy the same preferential policies regarding land use, taxation and tariffs that were given to coastal areas and special economic zones at the beginning of China's reform and opening up drive in late 1970s and early 1980s.
"The State Council will certainly learn lessons from the policy-making regarding the western development and the revival of the industrial base in northeast," said Liu, the official who works under the cabinet.
"We will be more prudent and the policies will be more thoughtful," he said, without further elaboration.
Li Chengxun, a professor with the Institute of Economics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it would take at least two to three decades for the central region to catch up with eastern coastal areas.

(Xinhua News Agency April 30, 2005)

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