Tea Leaf Nation

Mapping China's Latest Supercity

Introducing the Yangtze Delta Super-Economic Region.

SHANGHAI -- Move over, Beijing -- and watch out, BosWash. Just weeks after national economic planners declared they would build the area around China's capital into a 100-million strong megacity, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) are arguing that another superlative cluster is emerging around Shanghai, which could one day rival the largest and richest conurbations in the world, including BosWash, the theoretical conurbation running from the U.S. capital to the northeastern intellectual stalwart.

A featured article in CASS' latest Blue Book of Urban Competitiveness, published May 2014, coined the term "Yangtze Delta Super-Economic Region," which includes China's largest city of Shanghai as well as the neighboring provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui. Here's how it looks, relative to China's landmass (click on any image to enlarge):

The super-region is roughly the same size as Germany or Montana, covers 40 medium to large cities, houses about 212 million people, and accounts for about a quarter of China's economic output with only 3.6 per cent of the country's land area. It sounds impressive, but the authors caution that it remains a work in progress. 

Strictly speaking, the term Yangtze Delta refers to the lands around the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, but in practice it is synonymous with the ever-expanding region of economic dynamism in Eastern China that has benefited from being in Shanghai's tailwind. The authors show how over two decades the Delta has expanded from a narrow belt of cities abutting Shanghai to a larger region that encompasses some of China's leading second-tier cities, including Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Ningbo. The proposed super region can be read as a call to ensure that the Yangtze Delta's momentum continues to fan outward from its current "core" and spreads its good fortune to rural parts and smaller cities of the region.  

The essay argues that the integration process is already underway. Transport infrastructure has played and will continue to play a crucial role, with highways, bridges, and high-speed rail steadily growing the roster of cities that are within two-hours' travel time of Shanghai -- considered a prerequisite for sharing in the core area's sphere of economic influence. According to the CASS report, by 2020 almost every city in the super-region's three provinces will be linked into this "two-hour economic circle." Meanwhile, the authors show that in terms of transport access and integration of markets and industries, the super-region's core and outer areas have already begun to coalesce into a single unit, after decades of growing apart as Shanghai and other coastal cities split off from the pack.

Statistics and infrastructure ambitions aside, it remains clear that the Yangtze Delta's existing "core" area has a huge head start over the rest of the super-region. Northern Zhejiang province and southern Jiangsu province together constitute one of China's richest and most urbanized regions, which together with Shanghai account for about 70 percent of the super-region's current GDP all by themselves. Meanwhile, Chinese people regularly equate Anhui Province with rural poverty, and official statistics show that incomes in most of Anhui and northern Jiangsu are below the national average. Here's the relative size of the rich core to the entire super-region:

CASS acknowledges there are challenges to the super-region realizing its goals, including the gravitational pull of core cities like Shanghai while development potential in outer cities goes untapped. The researchers raise concerns about a lack of long-term strategy for fostering the region's integration, including local protectionism. Addressing these problems will be key to remaking this area into a unified regional powerhouse, rather than the lopsided marriage of a prosperous core and under-developed rump that it resembles today.

The essay claims that in the 21st century, competition between nations will increasingly be settled with contests between their leading cities and city clusters. With this in mind, the authors argue that whatever its growing pains, the Yangtze Delta super-region is the only part of China advanced enough to eventually go toe-to-toe with other global city regions like the U.S. Eastern seaboard and Japan's Tokyo-Osaka conurbation. If China's development mandarins can successfully eliminate barriers to the country's regional development, the Yangtze super region may some day give BosWash a run for its money.

Images copyright Foreign Policy. Do not reproduce without permission.

Tea Leaf Nation

The Communist Party's Terrorism Survival Plan

Old 'people's war' tactics are being mobilized against a new threat.

HONG KONG -- Terrorism is on the mind of the average Chinese citizen these days. Assailants have attacked crowded areas like train stations and markets in large cities around China, indiscriminately killing travelers, vendors, and passersby. Particularly shocking was a March 1 knife attack in the southern metropolis of Kunming, which claimed 29 victims, followed by a bomb attack in a crowded market in Urumqi, capital of the western region of Xinjiang, which killed 31 on May 22. Chinese authorities have blamed these attacks on Uighur separatists from Xinjiang.

State media has tried to manage the aftermath. After the knife attack in Kunming, state-run China Central Television (CCTV) tweeted a survival guide in case of terrorism on Weibo, China's popular microblogging platform. The guide, complete with an Astro Boy-like cartoon figure dressed in a Superman suit performing first-aid maneuvers, has advice like, "Try your best not to scream out of fear because it would further agitate the perpetrators" and "do not stop to take photos with your cellphone and share on social media."

Later, after the Urumqi market attack, CCTV tweeted more detailed advice for surviving attacks in a variety of scenarios and locations, including in gunfights and explosions on the subway, buses, hotels, or markets. "Hide behind objects that can cover your body," the guide advises, warning that objects such as lampposts, small trees, and fire hydrants are inadequate cover because they "seem dense but are too narrow." Many of the country's state-owned media have shared similar guides online, in print, and on television. On May 24, police in southern Yunnan province, where the Kunming attack took place, distributed more than 80,000 colorful survival guide brochures to the public. 

Online response has been mixed. Many Internet users take the guides as a hint that the Chinese government expects similar attacks to become a regular occurrence in crowded areas in China's large cities, and are demanding the government to do more to actively prevent attacks. One user tweeted in a typical comment, "Why are the media outlets telling ordinary people how to survive it but not criticizing the government for not doing more to prevent it?"

But from the ruling Communist Party's standpoint, calling on citizens -- mobilizing the masses, in party argot -- is an example of government doing its job. On May 30, domestic media reported that as many as 850,000 volunteers, most of them retirees in their 60s and 70s, have been called upon to patrol Beijing's streets. The report interviewed a 78-year-old woman named Guo Xiuyun, a 10-year veteran of the volunteer team, who said the team mostly consists of "elderly party members, cadre, and retirees." Guo claimed that her high level of vigilance helped law enforcement catch a man who was selling counterfeit money last year. "We have to let the terrorists see our red armlets," which designate volunteer patrols, said 61-year-old Li Huishen, who keeps up her patrols in Beijing's searing summer temperatures by "bringing more bottled water and staying in the shade."

Also on May 30, the Beijing Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League, reported that as many as 100,000 informants, even shoe cobblers and newsstand vendors, are now helping report suspicious activities. The Beijing police claim that the patrollers and informants will help collect information in local communities to form a "security network that involves the whole population."

"People's war" is one of the core components of former Chairman Mao Zedong's strategic theory and a tried-and-true tactic for the party, which used it to win China's gruesome civil war in 1949. But in the ensuing decades under Mao, the rhetoric of a people's war was often used against the so-called "class enemies" or "counterrevolutionaries" who had upset the party in one way or another. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, the phrase was often invoked by so-called red guards, mostly young Chinese then empowered to perpetrate massive destruction and strife. After subsequent leader Deng Xiaoping instituted market-oriented reforms in 1979, the mention of a people's war became increasingly rare.

Now that the Chinese government is facing a new threat, it seems ready dust off the old trope. In a May 24 editorial, the Hong Kong-based pro-party Wen Wei Po newspaper called for the use of a people's war to defeat terrorism by "mobilizing the masses to uncover the terrorists and their behind-the-scene puppet masters." The minister of public security, Guo Shengkun, also vowed to use the power of the masses to avert terrorism in a May 22 speech in Xinjiang.

Not everyone is convinced that a people's war would be effective in preventing attacks. Xinlin Shi, the pen name of a writer of historical fiction, tweeted that a people's war will only "make everyone suspicious of people around them and fear for their own safety." Lu Yaming, an Internet executive in the southern city of Shenzhen, wrote on Weibo that "the whole population is now in fear. Isn't this what the terrorists want?" Another Weibo user lamented, "The campaign to pry into the private affairs of the people by mobilizing other people is scarier than terrorism." 

To be sure, asking citizens to be involved in counterterrorism measures is common around the world. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, law enforcement in the United States called upon everyone to report suspicious activities. "If you see something, say something," read a popular slogan.

While the mere phrase of a people's war may invoke unpleasant memories for some Chinese, the party seems to be grasping for every possible way to combat what it sees as its new enemy. The problem, however, is that people's wars in China have historically overreached their intended mark, instead turning the populace against itself. As the threat of terrorism continues to loom over China, the ruling party will need to balance the demands for privacy in a modern society against the age-old doctrines of Maoism.

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