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Major Features of China's National Strategic Regional Plans


Liu Yunzhong, Hou Yongzhi & Lan Zongmin

I. Definition of National Strategic Regional Plans

As an important means for spatial regulation, the regional plans generally refer to the overall arrangement of the social and economic development and comprehensive land regulation in a specific region according to its development conditions and existing problems. In other words, they are strategies, programs and policy options formulated and implemented to solve specific problems or realize goals in a specific region1. In recent years, some regional plans have been made into national strategies, and served as an important tool of macro regulation at the regional level. In general, the national strategic regional plans have three features. First, they are issued by the state. In other words, they are national strategies approved, circulated or adopted through discussions in recent years by the State Council; second, they have typical orientation of regional economy, targeting at specific types of regions, rather than an master plan for the whole country; and third, the regional development planning is different from the five-year plan for national social and economic development, urban and urban-rural planning as well as land planning. Therefore, the national strategic regional plans discussed in this article do not cover the master plan for urban development, provincial urban planning, regional industrial planning or land planning approved by the State Council.

According to this definition, there were 78 regional plans and relevant policy documents made into national strategies from June 21, 2005 when Shanghai Pudong New Area comprehensive reform pilot program was approved by the State Council up to September 6, 2012 when Nansha New Area was approved, excluding strategies or guidelines for great regions including northeast China, central and western regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet, Guangxi and Qinghai and some overlapping planning/opinions for the same regions. Among them, 53 were major national strategic regional plans2.

II. Background for the Formulation of National Strategic Regional Plans

In recent years, some new problems cropped up in regional development which required new countermeasures. To be specific, first, with intensified regional factor mobility and regional integration, the simple planning for administrative areas can no longer meet the regional development demands, and emerging cross-regional problems (such as river basin management, eco-environmental protection and etc.) urgently need to be solved through coordination between administrative areas. Second, despite the regional development master plans for east, central, west and northeast parts of the country, their wide coverage leads to poor feasibility, orientation and effectiveness, and further specification and implementation is needed. Third, as the global financial crisis triggered by US subprime mortgage crisis keeps worsening, the global economy may enter a long period of downturn, the export and investment-driven development can hardly sustain, particularly the coastal regions in southeast area of the country, and new measures and polices are urgently needed to guide the transformation of regional economic development pattern. And fourth, the new round of economic development in coastal areas since 1990s has further widened the regional gap, and effective measures should be taken to promote the economic development in central and west regions and other underdeveloped areas, so as to narrow the regional gap. Therefore, a number of national strategic regional plans were formulated in recent years, focusing on accelerating the development of key areas, implementing major development and reform strategies, and deepening regional cooperation and opening up to the outside world3.

As for the pace for the implementation of national strategic regional planning, the year 2005 and 2006 marked the beginning, as only two comprehensive reform pilot areas including Shanghai Pudong New Area and Tianjin Binhai New Area had their development plans incorporated in national strategies. The pace was accelerated later, when 43 key regional plans were approved from 2007 to 2011, especially in 2009, 2010 and 2011 when 12, 9 and 16 national strategic regional plans were formulated respectively, accounting for 70% of the total. Since the second half of 2011, regional plans, instead of being formulated in an intensive way, have begun to target on old revolutionary base areas, areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, border areas and poverty-stricken areas, such as rocky desertification areas in Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou, Wulingshan area and former revolutionary base areas in Shaanxi Gansu and Ningxia.

III. Categories of National Strategic Regional Plans

Regional plans can be categorized according to their coverage, nature and goals. They can be categorized in terms of great regions (east, central, west and northeast), inter-province, intra-province and key cities. Among regional plans promulgated, there are two plans for the revitalization of northeast China and rise of the central region respectively, 11 inter-provincial plans, 22 inter-provincial and 18 key cities plans. Among others, the inter-provincial plans mostly cover different provinces, including the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, Guanzhong-Tianshui area, forest zones in Greater Khingan Mountains and Lesser Khingan Mountains, Haixi area, Qinghai-Tibet, Chengdu-Chongqing, Wulingshan area, revolutionary base areas in Shaanxi, Gansu and Ningxia, rocky desertification areas in Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou and northeast China. Six of them are for the west region, three for the east and two for the northeast. Among intra-provincial plans, seven are for the east, three for the northeast and six for the west and central respectively; and among key city plans, 14 for the east, one for the northeast and three for the west. In general, intra-provincial plans and key city plans take the lion's share and are mainly for the east, while most inter-provincial plans are about the west region. Plans for the east region focus on developing city clusters and new growth engines of key cities, and those for the west region stress the cooperation between great regions and comprehensive improvement.

According to the nature of approved documents, the national strategic regional plans fall into four categories, namely the national new area, regional (development) plans, (national) instructions and comprehensive reform area (including comprehensive supporting reform pilot area and comprehensive reform pilot area). The 35 regional development plans account for about 2/3, including special environmental protection plans (regional ecological development and environment protection plan on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau), poverty alleviation plan, border area development and opening up plan (pilot area), development demonstration zone/pilot area and construction plan and so on. National instructions are guidelines on regional development directly formulated by the State Council, including Zhongyuan Economic Zone, Kashgar-Khorgos Economic Development Zone and former Central Revolutionary Base Area in south Jiangxi Province. Such instructions mainly serve as preliminary guidelines for the regional development planning and specify the overall principle for the planning. They are important symbols for the regional planning to be upgraded as a national strategy. Comprehensive reform zone is a special regional plan and focuses on comprehensive supporting reform and piloting policies in specific fields. A total of 13 national comprehensive reform zones have been approved so far, including 10 national comprehensive supporting reform pilot areas (Shanghai Pudong, Tianjin Binhai, Chongqing, Chengdu, Wuhan city rim, Changsha-Zhuzhou-Xiangtan city cluster, Shenzhen, Shenyang Economic Zone, Shanxi Province and Xiamen) and three national comprehensive reform pilot areas (Yunnan, Yiwu of Zhejiang Province and Wenzhou of Zhejiang Province). The national new areas are representative national strategic areas and are here included into the national strategic regional plans. Six national new areas were established in recent years, including Shanghai Pudong New Area, Tianjin Binhai New Area, Chongqing Liangjiang New Area, Zhejiang Zhoushan Islands New Area, Lanzhou New Area and Guangzhou Nansha New Area. In general, although planning documents for different regions have different nature, they only differ in policy focus and the preferential degree, and are the same in terms of the core target and their promotional role in regional development.

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1 Chen Xuanqing: Views on China’s Regional Planning, Macro Economic Management, Issue 7, 2005.

2 The same document that approves more than one regional plan is counted as only one, such as Chengdu-Chongqing, Wuhan and Changsha-Zhuzhou-Xiangtan region, Dongxing in Guangxi, Ruili in Yunnan and Manzhouli Development and Opening Pilot Zone in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

3 Fan Hengshan: Regional Economic Development: Achievements Made during the 11th Five-Year Plan Period and Suggestions on the Implementation of the 12th Five-Year Plan, Chang’an Forum, Issue 194, 2011