Tokyo and Seoul show that areas around Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong will go from 15% to 60% of China’s population

South Korea tried to control the size of Seoul half a century ago. In Seoul’s first Basic Urban Plan, in 1966, its population was expected to grow from three to five million by 1985. But it hit that target in 1970. Now half of the population of South Korea is in Seoul. South Korea’s government could not fight the unstoppable force of urban concentration.

China’s urbanisation will continue to unfold in the major centres where the jobs are. Today, only about 15 per cent of China’s population lives in its top three urban regions: the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta and greater Beijing.

In Japan, almost 60 per cent of the population lives in its top three economic regions. China will also need concentrated urban development for an efficient economic structure, to compete with the likes of South Korea and Japan.

60% of China’s population will be nearly 900 million people up from less than 200 million today.

While Korea has failed to curtail population growth in greater Seoul, it has succeeded in distributing such growth away from the centre. Seoul’s population peaked in 1990 and stabilised at 10 million while the adjacent Gyeonggi region has continued to grow. Seoul is surrounded by almost 30 smaller cities in Gyeonggi, the engine for greater Seoul’s growth.

Through significant expansion of its territory in the 1950s, today’s Beijing is more of a region than a city. Beijing has grown from about two-thirds of Hong Kong’s size to 15 times its size. Even excluding its hilly areas in the northwest, Beijing has enough space to replicate the greater Seoul experience of urban development.

Like Tokyo, Beijing can be a metropolis consisting of many cities. Satellites can be developed within Beijing’s perimeter, never mind in neighboring Tianjin and Hebei.

In addition to linking them to central Beijing through rapid transit transport, building good schools and hospitals, and nice parks, will make them attractive alternatives to the city center. Importantly, there need to be jobs in these new towns.

Unfortunately, due to short-term commercial considerations, many potential new towns in Beijing have been reduced largely to housing communities. Thus, higher-level co-ordination for the greater common good, sometimes with a national perspective, may be needed to overcome parochial or vested interests.

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