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Western provinces taking the lead
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Several of China's western provinces, whose development has long lagged the eastern and southern regions, outpaced the rest of the nation by some key economic parameters last year.

For example, among all provinces, the southwestern Tibetan Autonomous Region posted the highest growth in retail sales, while the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region topped export growth, according to reports from provincial statistics bureaus.

The southwestern Sichuan province recorded a 40.1-percent annual rise in revenues last year, second only to the northern Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, where revenues grew 43.4 percent.

Sichuan's economic output hit 1.05 trillion yuan (US$148 billion), making it the first western province (and the ninth nationwide) to break the 1 trillion-yuan mark.

The regional statistics were published over the past two months and will be used by the National Bureau of Statistics to verify the national economic figures in April.

The reports show retail sales in Tibet rose 24.9 percent in 2007, or 7.8 percentage points more than the growth rate of the previous year. Exports of Xinjiang surged 61.1 percent, which was nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2006.

However, the average 13.94-percent growth rate in economic output of the western provinces, which account for more than half of the country's total area, was still lower than that of the eastern and central regions. Moreover, their aggregate output accounted for only 17 percent of the national figure last year.

"Economic growth in the eastern regions of the country is radiating toward the west," said Cai Zhizhou, deputy director of the China Center for National Accounting and Economic Growth at Peking University.

"China's economy still has great potential," Cai added.

China's gross domestic product continued its double-digit growth in 2007, rising 11.4 percent year-on-year, the NBS reported in January. The front runner was Inner Mongolia, which recorded a 19-percent gain, showing the benefit of China's program to develop the west.

Analysts said that four more province-level regions -- Beijing, Fujian, Hubei and Hunan -- were likely to see their output exceed 1 trillion yuan this year despite a worst-in-decades winter, slackening export growth and the negative effects of the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis.

"Many cities have huge economic plans and investment projects in the works as they seek faster development," said Wang Xiaoguang, a macroeconomic researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission.

The Beijing, Fujian, Hubei and Hunan economies all exceeded 900 billion yuan last year, with annual growth rates above 10 percent.

(Xinhua News Agency March 27, 2008)

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