A lesser-known prefecture-level city in Hebei province, southwest of Beijing, stands to gain from the transfer of some of the capital city’s people, investment and institutions.
News that Baoding will become China’s “auxiliary capital” has made headlines nationwide after Beijing-based Caijing magazine revealed the central leadership’s supposed blueprint to disperse Beijing’s people and resources to neighboring areas.
According to the reports, many of the agencies and departments under the central government, including industry associations and government-funded think tanks, as well as several educational institutions will be relocated to Baoding in a bid to alleviate Beijing’s worsening overpopulation problem.
As an incentive, civil servants and teachers who will be relocated will receive special allowances and most importantly, retain their Beijing residency — or hukou — along with all the corresponding privileges in healthcare, education and social welfare, according to the magazine.
Several Baoding and Hebei officials denied there was such a plan, yet many believe the alleged relocation plan dovetails with President Xi Jinping’s directive to ensure the balanced development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic rim.
Xinhua reported that Xi convened a conference at the end of last month and laid out broad policy brushstrokes regarding industrial transfer, city planning and infrastructure and transport enhancement.
The National Development and Reform Commission is said to have shortlisted candidate cities in Hebei, including Langfang, Zhangjiakou, Chengde, Zhuozhou, and Qinhuangdao, and a panel of experts gave its vote to Baoding, extolling its many virtues.
The first of these is its location. Beijing, Tianjin and Baoding form a perfect equilateral triangle on the map with Baoding about 140 kilometers away from the two larger municipalities. A 40-minute bullet train ride from Beijing’s west railway station is the most convenient way to commute to Baoding. It is just 15 kilometers south of Beijing’s second airport, which is expected to open by 2018 with annual passenger volume projected to reach 130 million.
The city, encompassing an area of 20,900 square kilometers with a population of 10.17 million, boasts expertise in the auto, solar energy, textile and building material sectors. It is home to Great Wall Motor Co. Ltd. (02333.HK, 601633.CN) and China Lucky Film Corp. (600135.CN).
Baoding lies in the center of Hebei, which means the rest of the province, mostly poverty-stricken rural areas, can also benefit should the city be designated as the country’s alternative political capital.
Beijing Youth Daily notes that despite official denials, Baoding has been busy laying the groundwork for a mini capital. A deputy mayor is now stationed in Beijing for liaison and the city has secured approval to set up a representative office there despite an ongoing clampdown on the proliferation of local government offices and regional state-owned companies in the capital.
Real estate speculators, mostly from Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, are flocking to Baoding in search of available homes amid news that property prices are set to soar on rumors of more policy blessings for the city.
A Baoding home currently sells at less than 7,000 yuan (US$1,130) per square meter, a fraction of the price of a tiny condominium unit in Beijing. Earlier this month, almost 200 homes at a new residential project were sold out in less than two weeks after news that the city will spearhead a pan-Beijing regional development began to circulate.
It has also been reported that Baoding will share Beijing’s telecommunication area code (010) to cut the cost of phone calls and data roaming for people who travel frequently between the two places.Amid all these perks, however, it is the welfare factor that is likely to determine whether people will migrate to Baoding.
Aside from the Beijing residency guarantee, China Academy of Social Sciences experts told Xinhua that more issues need to be addressed, one of which is education.
“A student who takes the college entrance test in Beijing can go to Peking University or Tsinghua University, but if he sits the exam in Hebei, he might not have the chance as Beijing sets a lower threshold for its own high school graduates,” a CASS researcher was quoted as saying.
Moving some of Beijing’s best hospitals and schools out of the city is also likely to stir fierce opposition from Beijing officials and residents, who may not be prepared to hand over on a silver platter the privileges that come with the status of a capital city.
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