What People’s Delegates Really Want: SEZs – Caijing

The government’s all about recalibrating the economy and spreading the wealth at this year’s NPC. Again. That means more spending on schooling country kids and expanding health care benefits; fewer scummy, wasteful mills and power plants; and populist new laws to even out taxes for foreign and domestic companies, the legal status of public and private property, and the rights of workers. So we read reams of reports about what China’s lawmakers are going to give — but precious little about what they’re out to get.

Going against the grain, Caijing magazine ran a nice stand-back piece on its Web site on Tuesday. It describes how four different provincial delegations all have come to the capital to lobby Beijing to endorse big new development zones they’ve got in the works. The investigative journalist responsible for the article is Luo Changping, who hopped over to Caijing from The Beijing News in mid-2006 after taking the fall for an offending story in the paper’s once-fearsome In-Depth Reports section. He writes:

In the government work report delivered on March 5, Premier Wen Jiabao stated that one of five policies and principles for this year is “to strengthen and improve macroeconomic control and adjustment”, the emphasis being to control fixed asset investment and the scale of credit, and to promote an overall balance in the economy by perfecting its structure. Yet the scramble for economic privileges amongst local governments not only embodies the competing interests in the course of local economic development; it also tests the wisdom and will of the central government’s macroeconomic control and adjustment.

As the story describes it, the four provinces are vying for official approvals, preferential status or other forms of political support for their trophy projects. The contingent from Hubei tell Caijing they envision creating a new zone around Wuhan in the image of Tianjin’s experimental Binhai – it’s time for the experiment to spread, a Hubei vice-statistics chief argues on his NPC blog – but they admit that their planners aren’t as far along as counterparts from neighboring Hunan. Hunan delegates, meanwhile, reveal that the province’s party secretary and governor visited with top State Development Planning Commission officials on the eve of the congress to request help in polishing off their plans for a zone integrating Changsha and two smaller economic hubs. Down from Liaoning for the congress, Shenyang mayor is campaigning to put the new Shenxi Industrial Corridor on a par administratively with Shenzhen and Shanghai’s Pudong; the province’s star Party boss Li Keqiang says Liaoning is making use of abandoned plots and mud flats but “did not elaborate” on the project’s reported environmental problems, says Caijing. And back where Li Keqiang was last posted, Henan, officials are out to show they’re heeding Beijing’s warnings against wayward urban sprawl, vice-governor Zhang Weimin tells Caijing. Premier Wen’s government reprimanded top officials there in September for expropriating land to build Zhengzhou’s Longzihu University Town minus approvals. Zhang says the province is guiding its cities to save space.

This is the first year Caijing has devoted daily coverage to the congress on its Web site. The magazine, in fact, has been handling more and more breaking action online – still a regulatory soft space for high-profile print outlets like it. Few if any non-official outlets appear to have gone as far as Caijing. Its daily file from Davos, attended by editor Hu Shuli and a couple of her lieutenants, was a warm-up for the NPC.

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