The media hype over the proposed Xiongan New Area has triggered a frenzy of buying into stocks related to the development program, which officials have referred to as a monumental state project that will have implications for the entire country “over the next millennium”.
In fact, the Xiongan project has drawn so much attention because it is far from being just a new urban development program.
It represents the ultimate answer to the longstanding debate over whether China should give up Beijing and relocate its capital city somewhere else.
For decades there have been calls from mainland scientists and academics for the party leadership to consider relocating the country’s capital city, mainly because of Beijing’s vulnerability to frequent sandstorms from the Gobi desert and the relentless toxic smog hanging over its skies, both of which have intensified in recent years.
However, moving the capital city is an enormous undertaking that would require not only a huge amount of resources but also, more importantly, would affect a lot of political vested interests and likely provoke a strong backlash.
As a result, the Communist Party was unable to make up its mind over the years.
While there are many who are for moving the capital, there are also many who favor extending the area of Beijing instead of establishing a new capital city.
Those who are against moving the capital have argued that Beijing, which has been China’s seat of government since the 1400s, has unique geopolitical, strategic and cultural advantages over other major cities in the mainland, and is therefore irreplaceable.
President Xi Jinping’s latest decision to build the Xiongan New Area, a rural county 130 kilometers southwest of Beijing, indeed represents a final victory for those who are in favor of keeping Beijing as the capital city.
According to the plan, the Xiongan New Area will serve as Beijing’s extension and become a de facto secondary capital to alleviate Beijing’s congestion.
Many of the highly polluting industrial plants and intensive farms in Beijing will be relocated to Xiongan, thus enhancing the “greening” of Beijing and making it a more livable city.
Such a large-scale and highly ambitious plan to transform the environment reminds me of Mao Zedong’s famous slogan: “Man will prevail over nature” (人定勝天), which was frequently chanted by party mouthpieces during the 1950s and 1960s when China was embarking on a massive industrialization program.
However, political slogan is one thing and reality is quite another.
No matter how determined people are, can man’s sheer willpower really move mountains and clean up the skies of Beijing?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 10
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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