A fresh slate for a new city near Beijing?

June 16, 2017 / By  

In a relatively unknown corner of Hebei province, ambitious plans for a new city have been announced for Xiong’an New Area, nearly 120 km south of Beijing. The new state-level zone will be administered directly by the central government and enjoy all of the associated financial benefits, resources, and access to expertise.

Map_Steven_Beijing Xiongan_highres_v2Source: JLL

What sets Xiong’an apart from other state-level zones is not only its obscurity, but also its location. China’s special zone success stories were close to major cities: Shenzhen, adjacent to Hong Kong, and Shanghai Pudong, just a few hundred metres away across the Huangpu River. These and other examples in China’s recent history were typically located near harbours, rivers, or key trade routes. Xiong’an has none of these advantages.

Nor is Xiong’an envisioned as a “bedroom community” commuter suburb. Instead, it will be an entirely new city. At an equivalent distance from Beijing as the city of Tianjin, daily commutes are not practical, even with high-speed rail. The project has more in common with “new capitals”, cities purpose-built by edict around the world such as Canberra in Australia, Brasilia in Brazil, and Putrajaya in Malaysia.

However, the Xiong’an strategy takes this idea and turns it inside-out: the new city’s purpose is to be everything that Beijing doesn’t want to be, and allow Beijing to strengthen its core purpose of being the national administrative centre.

A ‘tabula rasa’ 

The location provides an opportunity to build a fresh new city that is unencumbered by local politics. Many have argued that the regional development initiatives under the existing Jing-Jin-Ji, or capital economic region, have not happened quickly enough.

While it is true that a number of new zones exist within a few hours’ drive of Beijing at varying degrees of maturity, Xiong’an appears to be a ‘tabula rasa’ – a blank slate – on which to build a city with the capital’s own interests at heart, and with the full authority of the current central government administration. The area also happens to be one of the less populated pockets of Hebei, which should allow speedier construction as fewer residents will need to be relocated.

Relief for Beijing

The unfulfilled promise of a Tier II service sector boom has led Beijing to become somewhat of a be-all-and-end-all of employment growth in northern China, creating strong rural-to-urban migration flows and immense pressure on public resources. Beijing has already started programmes to gradually de-populate by making it harder to settle in the city.

Xiong’an is the ideal location to relieve some of the pressure on Beijing, particularly as the Chinese capital sharpens its intended role as the elite decision-making hub of China and the world. With all non-related jobs eventually going to Xiong’an, the area will develop considerably as it provides a growing number of low to medium-grade employment opportunities.

Anything is possible with unlimited central government resources. If given the best access to finance and expertise, a new city can be built.

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