HORSE POWER: In the past decade, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has enhanced efforts to protect its natural grassland environment and made a push into modern animal husbandry (ZHANG LING)
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council recently set goals for the western development endeavor over the next decade at a conference on July 5-6. The focus will be put on enhancing the economic strength of the western region to achieve a 10-percent economic growth rate by 2020.
The western region of China includes Chongqing Municipality, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, and Tibet, Ningxia Hui, Xinjiang Uygur, Inner Mongolia and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions. It covers more than 70 percent of the country's total territory, and about 30 percent of its total population.
At the conference, Chinese President Hu Jintao said the goal of further implementing the western development strategy by 2020 included improving the region's infrastructure and forming a modern industrial system. Resource and other industrial bases will also need to be established for emerging industries.
THE FAST LANE: Traffic flows smoothly along a new overpass in Dingxi City, Gansu Province. The northwest province has made significant progress in improving its infrastructure (HAN CHUANHAO)
The western development strategy will also improve people's living standards and look to narrow the gap between the western region and coastal areas. To achieve this, the Central Government will step up financial support to the western region and help it catch up with eastern areas in terms of public services, said Du Ying, Deputy Director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), at a conference on July 8.
Environment protection will be another issue leading the charge of western development, and the government's best efforts will be made to curb environmental and ecological degradation.
"We have already considered establishing five key ecological zones in west China and plan to implement 10 key projects to protect the ecological system there," said Du.
Meanwhile, the government renewed the strategic importance of the region, saying it is crucial to the country's regional integration and will play an important role in promoting the development of a harmonious society. It is also key to the country's sustainable development.
Du said there are four reasons for the government's new definition of the region's strategic importance. First, while west China has witnessed rapid economic growth in recent years, it remains a weak link compared with eastern, northeast and central regions. Without the western region meeting the target of building a modern and moderately prosperous society, the country won't achieve goals as a whole.
Second, west China holds the key to the country's stability. It takes up 71.5 percent of the country's total area and has a land border of 18,000 km. In addition, the region is home to 75 percent of the country's ethnic minorities and 66 percent of population with a per-capita annual income of less than 1,196 yuan ($176). Moreover, the variety of ethnic cultures and complicated religious problems in the region add up to difficulties in stabilizing the country's border areas.
Third, west China has a profound impact on the ecological environment of the whole country. The western region, as the source of many rivers, boasts vast forests, grasslands, wetlands and lakes. Around 80 percent of the country's water and soil loss and grassland degradation happen in the region, making environment protection in the region all the more important for the country's sustainable development.
Fourth, the western region has rich strategic resources, with its verified coal reserves, recoverable gas reserves and exploitable hydropower making up 67 percent, 66 percent and 82 percent of the national total, respectively. In addition, west China can utilize wind and solar power and tap its priorities in the development of the tourism industry and border areas.
Du noted China would have to answer two questions concerning future economic development. "One is whether we can adhere to the long-term strategy of boosting domestic demand, and the other is whether we can overcome resources shortages and environment damages."