WUWEI City, Gansu: China has been aggressively developing new cities in pursuit of its ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative to achieve its goal of becoming the world’s largest economy in the next 10 years or so.
I am here with 24 other journalists from Asia on a two-week media workshop that includes a tour of China’s showcase projects for the global market. The workshop is aimed at promoting the Belt and Road Initiative that was conceived in 2013 to link China to the central and eastern parts of Europe through Asia and the Middle East.
The media workshop began in Beijing with four days of briefings from experts on various aspects of the BRI before we were brought to the showcase projects in new areas in Jinchang City, Yongchang County, and Wuwei City that are being developed as new areas for tourism and agricultural investments.
Our hosts, the state-run People’s Daily and the local governments, are showing us how the administration of President Xi Jinping is serious about bridging the gap between the rich and poor within the country and in connecting and opening up China’s economy to the world.
From the lectures last week at Tsinghua University’s PBC School of Finance, we were constantly reminded of China’s strategy to achieve its development goals, that is, if you want to get rich, you have to build roads, bridges and ports.
We were told that all these efforts to push China’s economy to the top began from the reform and opening-up policies of revered leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s. Incidentally, that was the time when diplomatic relations were started between China and the Philippines through the efforts of the then first lady Imelda Marcos.
Zhang Yansheng, chief researcher at the China Center for International Economic Exchange, recalled how chairman Deng did it. “Deng Xiaoping allowed a small part of the people to get rich first. Then, the rich people helped the other people to get rich.”
China then started its industrial transformation by developing the eastern coastal areas of China that opened up links to the Western countries and later to the emerging developed economies in Asia.
From Thursday last week, we have been hopping from one city to another in Gansu province in the northern part of China bordering Mongolia. We traveled through thousands of kilometers of new roads, crossed new bridges and saw thousands of high-rise buildings for residential and commercial uses that were either newly constructed or under construction.
Gansu province has a long stretch of wide arid lands that the local governments are now finding use for other purposes. Investments in tourism and agricultural development are among the primary considerations that the local governments are exploring, given the vast natural resources of the province.
During a 2.5-hour plane ride from Beijing, we passed through a long stretch of desert. As we approached the inhabited area of Jinchang City, we saw windmills and solar power panels used to generate energy. There were power transmission lines even in the desert where no human or any living thing would seem to survive.
The main industry in Jinchang is mining. Its main products are nickel, copper, and cobalt, plus 28 other valuable metals.
Wu Ming Ming, the city’s general secretary, said the national government has been helping the local government to develop tourism as a secondary source of livelihood for its people. Four years ago, the city, known as the nickel capital of China, started growing flowers and plants, aiming to promote itself as a “purple” garden city by planting verbena and lavender on the roadsides. It also has a Purple and Golden Garden with 380,490 square meters of land planted to purple and yellow golden flowers, complete with log villas and hotels for tourists.
In Jinchuan district, vast tracts of land have been planted to quinoa which, in the last two years, have shown good prospects for export. The local government aims to double the plantation size by next year to around 15,000 mu (1 mu = 667 square meters).
In Yongchang County, we were shown an e-commerce center that integrates training, promotion and marketing of local companies. The Yongchang Juchuang E-Commerce Ltd. is investing 65.44 million RMB (roughly equivalent to US$10 million). It initially showcases 480 local products, including quinoa, fruit juices, mushrooms and other agricultural products grown in the county.
An hour’s drive from Yonchang County brought us to Wuwei City, the center of Gansu province, which is being promoted for its agricultural and tourism potential. It is known as China’s Wine City for its production of organic wines.
Massive development in the cities of Jinchang and Wuwei began four years ago following the 18th National People’s Congress, the country’s highest governing body.
The cities of Jinchang, Wuwei, Liangzhou, and Dunhuang in the province of Gansu are key areas in the multi-billion-dollar infrastructure programs under the Belt and Road Initiative. The developments in these areas are simply amazing!
Aside from its organic wines, Wuwei boasts a rich cultural history dating back to 125 AD. It has temples, pagodas, stupas and grottos, museums and parks to remind the younger generation of their heritage.
And in what was once barren land, the Pukang Group is developing a 245-hectare modern comprehensive agricultural industrial garden in Yongfeng town, Liangzhou district where one part will be dedicated to breeding sheep (mutton dishes are popular in Gansu), another to plants and flowers, water sports, an educational camp and dining villas.
Like Wuwei tourism’s symbol of a galloping horse, China is making a big leap to become the world’s biggest economic power in the next few years by discovering the strengths of the local government units and empowering them.
The Philippines indeed has much to learn from China in building its infrastructure linkages and developing the entrepreneurial strengths of LGUs. The pilot projects we have seen and the roads, bridges, and railways we have passed through are solid proof that China is showing a new phase in conquering the world economically.