China's central and western regions are developing in a fast pace with the growth rate approaching that of the eastern coastal regions, according to the State Development Planning Commission (SDPC).
SDPC statistics show that during the ninth five-year plan period from 1996 to 2000, the eastern regions registered an average annual growth rate of 10.43 percent, the western regions 9.77 percent and the central regions 10.1 percent.
According to the commission, 13 inland provinces and autonomous regions reported a growth rate higher than the national average, on the basis of an eight percent increase in the 1991-1995 period.
Xi'an, Chongqing, Chengdu, Kunming and Urumqi have become important regional economic centers in the hinterland.
Fixed asset investment in the central and western regions by the central government has increased remarkably during the ninth five-year plan period.
In 1996, fixed asset investment in the central and western regions accounted for 35 percent of the national total, and it rose to 39 percent in 1999.
The initiation of a large number of railway, hydropower, natural gas and other major projects have greatly improved the infrastructure in the central and western regions and laid a sound foundation for closer economic ties between coastal and inland regions.
The central and western regions have been the focus of China's poverty relief efforts. It is estimated that the country's poverty-stricken population, mostly living in the central and western regions, decreased from 65 million in 1996 to 34 million in 1999.
The industrial structure of the central and western regions has improved remarkably, with the service sector developing rapidly.
By 1999, the primary industry accounted for 22 percent of the gross domestic product in central and western regions, the manufacturing sector 44 percent and the service sector 34 percent.
Since the beginning of the ninth five-year plan, the Chinese government has issued a series of policies that give the central and western regions greater freedom in attracting foreign investment and undertaking border trade.
As a result, the investment environment has been greatly improved and export earnings have been increasing rapidly in the central and western regions.
At the same time, the increasingly close ties between the west and east have also led to closer economic and technological cooperation.
In September 1999, China formally announced its Western Development Strategy, which, according to the SDPC, is a much grander and more systematic program in promoting concerted regional economic development than any other regional economic development models employed before.
The new strategy, which involves infrastructure, environmental protection, industrial structure adjustment and science and technology advance, will produce a more extensive and greater impact on the development of the central and western regions, said a SPDC official.