The once-poor west China is growing at a faster rate than the east. The trend is set to continue over the next few years. This is good news for China as the country gears up to shrink the economic divide between eastern and western regions.
The boom in west China is owed to unprecedented development opportunities. Since the country launched the Western Development Strategy in 2000, the western region has been offered many favorable policies and financial support. In 2001, China joined the WTO and further opened up to the outside world, which has also brought significant benefits to the west. In addition, advantages in resources and the catch-up effect paved the way for west China to take off.
But we have to admit the western region remains less developed and accounts for most of China's poverty-stricken population. Education, medical care, social welfare and the livelihoods of residents in west China lag behind its eastern counterpart, and improvement in those areas still requires more vigorous efforts.
While it seeks rapid economic expansion, the western region must focus on the quality of the growth. It is imperative for west China to learn from the experiences of the east, and embark on a more sustainable path of development. To achieve that, west China has to deal properly with many challenges.
It must improve policies to receive industries transferred from abroad and the eastern region. Experience from east China can provide clues as to how best to do this. In the past, the eastern region blindly attracted investments, which buoyed the economy, but also imposed a heavy toll on the environment. Now the eastern region has to make painful efforts to restructure the economy toward a greener future.
Local governments in west China need to adjust their functions, allow the markets to play a bigger role in promoting economic development, and foster free and fair competition for businesses. In this regard, local governments still have a long way to go before catching up with their eastern counterparts.
Residents' lives need to be improved. Over the next five years, west China will continue facing pressures of limited productivity and the residents' growing needs for better lives. The only solution is to beef up development. But the past outdated development model would surely cause huge economic losses and environmental damages. As a result, the only way out is to adhere to the sustainable and balanced road of development.
The environment needs to be protected. The western region is the origin of most of China's large rivers and home to many forests, grasslands, wetlands and lakes. Around 80 percent of China's soil and water loss and grassland degradation happens in the west. If we fail to protect the environment of west China, it will cast an ominous shadow over economic prospect of the whole country.
If all those problems are properly addressed, the economy of west China will grow even faster and better. We are confident west China has a promising future.