While late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's scheme to give people a heavy purse is materializing, China is stepping up efforts to help those who haven't seen financial benefits catch up.
Since the 1980s, people in the eastern and coastal region started to line their pockets. In 2000, China began to pour enormous amounts of money in western regions to improve the lifestyles of people in the hinterland. Last year, it launched a massive campaign to invigorate the rusting industrial bases mainly in Northeast China.
Now, deputies at the ongoing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) are focusing on Premier Wen Jiabao's blueprint to achieve balanced development in various regions of China.
Statistics show the income ratio between Shanghai's residents the highest in China and urban residents in Guizhou Province, whose combined income was the lowest in China, was 2.33:1 in 2002.
Wen spoke of the government's commitment during the work report at the session saying a large proportion of 110 billion yuan (US$13.3 billion) worth of long-term construction treasury bonds this year will be used to promote restructuring and balance economic and social development.
Since 1998, the funds were mainly poured into expanding domestic demand and stimulating economic growth.
Deputies said the central government should play a bigger role in closing the widening gap between the nation's rich and poor provinces.
"Unbalanced regional development is posing a serious challenge to China's fast economic growth," said Xiong Guanglin, NPC deputy from the city of Bazhong of Sichuan Province.
But Xiong, mayor of the poor urban center, was confident that his city with a population of 3 million can improve within a decade.
His confidence was based on the expectation that more governmental and private investment will be channeled into the city, which is rich in mineral resources and natural attractions.
"If the infrastructure situation changes, a frog leap will take place soon," said Xiong. But four counties under his city have been listed among the 500 poorest in China.
The central part of China can be a major link in promoting well-balanced development of regional economies, NPC deputies from Hunan, Anhui and Henan provinces said yesterday.
The three provinces, plus Shanxi, Hubei and Jiangxi are grouped as "central regions," which account for 10 per cent of the country's area and 28 per cent of the nation's population, said Deputy Zhang Dawei.
After years of fast-track growth, the prosperous eastern coast, whose further expansion is inhibited by a shortage of resources and a saturating market, will inevitably turn to invest in the vast market of the neighboring central region, Zhang said.
"The central region has abundant resources and cost-effective labor, and most of all, a huge number of consumers, meaning it is a big magnet for manufacturers and other intensive-intensive businesses of the eastern region," he said.
It is up to policy-makers in the central region to ensure a sound investment environment, including supporting policies and infrastructure, said Zhang, also director of Henan Provincial Development and Reform Commission.
In addition to acting as a "buffer zone" for the eastern coast, the central region is again exploiting its geographical advantages to strengthen its foothold in western China, Zhang said.
"Compared with the eastern region, the central provinces have more exchanges and habitual and cultural relations with the western region," Zhang said. "Many business people in Henan China's largest province are building factories and making acquisitions in western provinces."
While the booming eastern coast is already well developed, China has taken steps to help the western and northeast.
In 2000, programs were put in place to develop the West while last year the government focused on revitalizing the northeast region.
However, there is no such overall scheme for the central region, according to Deputy Chen Shuhong from Hunan Province.
Chen said he anticipated a similar macro-development plan will be worked out for the central region to co-ordinate efforts of the six central provinces, as well as the region's interaction with the eastern and western areas.
A priority of the central region's development plan is to further fortify its role as the major grain supplier of the country, Zhu Xianfa, an NPC deputy from Anhui Province, said during a group discussion.
(China Daily March 8, 2004)