TIANJIN: Thirty years ago, Shenzhen was a small fishing village, and 15 years ago, the Pudong New Area was just a poor suburb of Shanghai.
Today, they are economic powerhouses for the fast developing country.
Tianjin's Binhai New Area is not that far behind them.
"In 10 years, the Binhai New Area, singled out for its modern manufacturing, research and development capacity, shipping and logistics, will become the third powerhouse for China," Song Lianxin, deputy director of the area's administrative committee, said yesterday.
The Binhai New Area, some 2,270 sq km in size, is home to some of the world's biggest companies such as Motorola, Samsung, Toyota, Sinopec, PetroChina, Airbus and GlaxoSmithKline.
The country's biggest bonded area, the Dongjiang Bonded Harbor Area, and a new 116,000-sq-m airport, are also under construction.
The new area also has President Hu Jintao's firm backing.
In a speech at the just-concluded 17th National Congress of the Communist Party, Hu said special economic zones, such as the Pudong New Area in Shanghai and the Binhai New Area, would play a major role in reform, opening up and independent innovation.
This was the first time that the Binhai New Area was mentioned in the Party Congress report, a document that experts said paves the way for the country's development over the next five years.
"We're excited and encouraged over this unprecedented statement," Song said.
"It shows the central leadership has put the Binhai New Area at an important position in the country's overall development strategy."
There has long been debate over which area was likely to become China's third powerhouse.
Development zones and city alliances in at least six provinces and autonomous regions, including Guangxi, Sichuan, Liaoning, Hunan, Hubei and Tianjin, had been jostling for the position. It is believed that the establishment of such a status would attract favorable policies and resource distribution, as well as more decision-making power.
Mei Song, a senior researcher with Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, said this statement showed that the central leadership had paid more attention to balanced regional development.
"Shenzhen, Pudong, and Binhai are located in the country's southern, central and northern coastline," he said.
"The decision to make Binhai the third pilot area shows the country wants its economic driving force to move from the south to the north."
A document from the State Council, China's cabinet, released last year pinned high hopes on the Binhai New Area aiding the development of other neighboring regions.
The area recorded a 172 billion yuan ($22.6 billion) of gross product in the first nine months of this year, up 20 percent year-on-year. It is estimated that by the end of the year, the figure will reach 236 billion yuan, about the same as the gross product last year of Shanghai Pudong.
It is expected by 2010 the area's gross product would reach 350 billion yuan, with an annual growth rate of at least 17 percent, higher than the current 14 percent annual growth rate in Shanghai Pudong.
Song said they were confident the goal would be achieved and also revealed that cooperation agreements with other ports along the Bohai Sea, such as Tangshan and Yantai, to had been reached.
"The Party Congress report has said that the Binhai New Area must play a role in independent innovation, pinning high expectations on us," Song said.
"We've planned a hi-tech zone and a modern manufacturing zone and we're expecting more enterprises to establish their research and development bases here."
It is expected that by 2010, half of its industrial output would come from hi-tech industries.
The State Council has also allowed the Binghai New Area to conduct a range of financial reforms, including experiments in reforming the scope of the banking business, ways of fund-raising and control of foreign exchange.
Some observers believe the experience gained here would be of great significance to any national financial reform.