Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei making progress to unified megaregion but challenge of uneven per capita levels are a challenge

The tremendous growth of the Chinese economy in the past 30 years was largely driven by the rise of the two super-city clusters – the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) and the Pearl River Delta (PRD).

These country-sized regions, consisting of one or two mega metropolises surrounded by an assortment of satellite cities, together produce over 25 per cent of the country’s GDP. Not only that, for the past few decades they were the world’s greatest social and economic testing ground for wealth creation through urbanisation.

Beijing is the only first-tier city in northern China.

A few years ago Beijing introduced the “Jing-Jin-Ji” super-city cluster, which integrates Beijing (Jing), with nearby Tianjin (Jin) City and Hebei Province (Ji). It is now being given support by the central government and expanding in full swing, vying to be the third major super-city cluster in the country in addition to the YRD and PRD.

There is already a high-speed rail line linking landlocked Beijing and the port city of Tianjin, reducing the hour-long journey to just 20 minutes. There are also extensive motorway networks crisscrossing the region. Meanwhile, Beijing is planning to build a second major airport in the southern suburb of Daxing county by 2019. Once completed, the airport, serving the surrounding regions, will reach a capacity of 72 million passengers per year by 2025.

Jing-Jin-Ji already accounts for about 10 per cent of national GDP and 6 per cent of the total population, eclipsing PRD and threatening YRD’s leading position. However, that is perhaps where the similarity ends. Lacking some of the economic and structural advantages enjoyed by their southern cousins, Jing-Jin-Ji is facing considerable challenges on the way to its goal.

Asia Monitor looked more closely at the jing jin ji economic integration

Source: NBS, BMI, Data in the graph are BMI forecasts

Over decades of development, a number of prosperous second-tier cities in the YRD and PRD flourished. These include Hangzhou and Suzhou near Shanghai, and Foshan and Dongguan near Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
The per capita GDP of these satellite cities is now on par with the core cities. In 2015, while Guangzhou’s per capita GDP was 134,000 yuan, Foshan’s was already 108,000 yuan. While Shanghai’s per capita GDP was 103,000 yuan in 2015, Hangzhou saw its number overtake Shanghai’s to reach 112,000 yuan. Throughout these two clusters there are dozens of cities that have produced that level of GDP.

In Jing-Jin-Ji, Beijing is by far the most dominating city in the landscape. Many smaller cities in northern China are either less well-known or economically insignificant nationally. As Beijing ploughs ahead, the gap between the capital and its neighbors widens. For example, Beijng’s per capita GDP in 2015 reached 106,000 yuan, while neighboring Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei Province, commanded only 50,800 yuan per head.

Beijing has to spend time and money on bridging the disparity among the surrounding cities of the Jin-Jin-Ji and in the rural areas.

The success of the Jing-Jin-Ji blueprint largely depends on the meticulous and systematic planning and execution of various government initiatives.