Double figure economic growth is still being predicted for the northeastern province of Jilin, despite the economic meltdown that has afflicted much of the rest of the world. Han Changfu, governor of Jilin, made the announcement at a recent conference where he outlined a number of national and regional initiatives aimed at boosting growth in the province, one of China's key industrial and agricultural regions.
Han predicted that the province's gross domestic product (GDP) would grow by 12 percent year-on-year in 2009. This follows on from a highly successful 2008 for Jilin, which saw GDP grow by 16 percent to reach a total of 640 billion yuan.
Han ascribed the 4 percent drop in growth expectations to the world economic recession. A fall in demand from beleaguered export markets, he said, is likely to have a substantial impact upon many of the businesses in the province with foreign trading partners.
However, he said, the province looked to benefit from a number of recently announced central government initiatives aimed at stimulating economic growth, including a series of proactive fiscal and monetary policies, as well as a raft of national infrastructure construction projects. As one of the country's key industrial bases and one of the most important grain-producing zones in China, Jilin will be a major beneficiary of the government's program of economic stimuli.
Aside from the national initiatives, Han also highlighted a series of local measures introduced by the provincial government to safeguard the prosperity of the region. These include increasing fixed-asset investments and implementing more infrastructure development projects, promoting agricultural and rural development, and investing in measures to boost employment in the region.
Fixed-asset investment is at the heart of both the regional and national program, according to Han, and is seen as the most direct route to stimulating demand in the domestic market and driving growth. In total, investment in fixed-asset development in the province is set to grow by 28 percent in 2009. More than 700 billion yuan has already been earmarked to develop agricultural and industrial projects across the province. Transportation, utilities, water control and irrigation, environmental concerns and urban resources are all set to benefit from the massive investment program.
The ambitious program will see the launch of more than 1,500 large projects in 2009, each with an individual budget in excess of 30 million yuan. Transportation has been identified as one of key areas for investment with both road and rail projects having been greenlit.
Under the scheme, work on four new railway lines will begin this year. These will link Tonghua and Guanshui, Jingyu and Songjianghe, Helong and Nanping and Shijiazhuang and Yantongshan. Construction is also expected to start on a series of new high-speed expressways. These will provide rapid access between Yingchengzi and Songjianghe, Changchun and Songyuan and Songyuan and Shuangliao, as well as improving links with the Changchun Longjia International Airport.
Work has already begun on one of the initiative's other flagship projects - The Hadashan Water Control Project, said to be the largest and most ambitious water control project in the region for the last 50 years. Upon completion, the project will consist of a substantial reservoir facility near the city of Songyuan and a network of ancillary waterways. The project is aimed at tackling the longstanding problem of water shortages in western parts of the province.
Han assured the conference that the construction of these projects, involving the largest-ever investment of public funding in the region, would be the subject of intense scrutiny by both government watchdogs and members of the public. As well as the economic boost for Jilin, the governor also emphasized that environmental protection and efficient resource management issues would be addressed in both the planning and construction phases of all the projects, especially those in the power and heavy industry sectors.
The governor said that rather than having a negative environmental impact, the government will be using investment in the area's infrastructure to target and remedy environmental and sustainability problems throughout the province. He cited the allocation of substantial funds for tackling water pollution in the Songhua River and the provision of upgraded sewage and refuse treatment facilities throughout the province as prime examples of the eco-friendly measures being adopted.
Aside from infrastructure investment, agricultural development has also been identified as one of the province's funding priorities. Located in the fertile "black soil belt", Jilin is one of the most important grain production centers in China. Sustaining and developing its output, whilst raising the living standards of its rural population, is seen as an essential measure in both stimulating market demand and driving economic growth.
In 2008, the provincial government announced an ambitious plan to increase Jilin's grain production by more than 5 million tonnes over a five year period - taking it from the current per annum level of 28.4 million tonnes to 33.4 million tonnes. The plan was rubber-stamped by the State Council last year and was officially incorporated into the national grain safety strategy, aimed at boosting China's grain reserves over the next five years. Additional funding will now be made available to implement the plan, with a number of projects - including irrigation, farmland improvement, seed improvement and the promotion of modern farming equipments and techniques- already having been given the go-ahead.
Han said that the countryside of Jilin was a potentially huge market for consumer goods, as well as having great scope for developing its domestic workforce. He said that solving the problems relating to agriculture and rural development was the key to unlocking the province's potential for long-term sustainable growth.
He also indicated that measures were now in place for tackling one of the province's most pressing problems - the large number of formerly migrant workers returning to their rural homes following lay-offs from many of the manufacturing plants in China's coastal areas, early casualties of the global economic downturn
Han assured that one of the provincial government's top priorities was to help these people back into work. He said these returning workers would be offered re-training opportunities, designed to make them more versatile and employable in the workplace. He added that that those workers who had acquired new skills whilst working in China's more developed regions should be welcomed back as their abilities could be put to good use as part of Jilin's move toward a massive industrial revitalization. The province is also expected to create 420,000 new jobs this year and aims to ensure that each family has at least one member in full-time employment.
He promised that the re-training and re-deployment of returned migrant workers was part of Jilin's plan to promote rural development and stimulate rural market demand throughout the province. The plan would also see considerable expenditure on developing infrastructure facilities in many of the more badly served rural areas.
Further attempts to develop the area's agrarian economy would also see farmers offered subsidies to allow greater investment in crop plantation, improved seed stocks and more efficient and modern farming equipment. Subsidies would also be offered to those businesses selling electrical appliances in the rural areas, the governor stated.
Underpinning the national and provincial level proposals, said Han, was a commitment to raising the standard of living for people throughout Jilin, as well as ensuring that the economic growth necessary for this could be delivered in a sustainable way. To achieve this, he said, a cover-all social security system would be made freely available to all local residents. It is believed that this financial "safety net" will reduce the financial anxieties of many of the province's citizens and ultimately increase their willingness to spend.
This year, the province will continue to extend its social security system, opening it up to cover more categories and include more people. It will include pension provision for the retired and elderly, as well as medical insurance, unemployment insurance, free education and a guarantee of a minimum living standard for low-income families.
Source: China Daily