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CPC steers regional economy by developmental needs

DING RENZHONG and LI BIAO | 2021-08-05 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A passenger displays round-trip train tickets between Beijing and Xiong’an, a national-level newly established economic zone in north China’s Hebei Province. Opened in December 2020, the intercity railway has been hailed as a boon to the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region. Photo: FILE

Since its founding in 1921, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has paid great attention to regional economic development. Particularly, it has drawn upon insightful analysis on such topics as division of labor, urban-rural relations, and productivity distribution in a series of classical works authored by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, including The Communist Manifesto, Anti-Dühring, and Capital. Moreover, the theories were organically integrated with practices of socialist regional economic development, leading the CPC to roll out phased and consistent strategies suited to the socialist economy and China’s actual conditions. 
Based on the historical path of Chinese socialist economic transformation and development, the CPC’s regional economic strategy has gone through three stages: one led by the planned economy, another stage featuring the exploration of a socialist market economy, and the third phase in which the market economy matures. 
In the planned economy stage, regional economies were steered toward balanced development in an even layout. During the period exploring a socialist market economy, a differentiation strategy was designed for regional economic development. As the market economy system has been improving, the CPC aims for coordinated regional development, so that the regions can complement each other’s advantages. 
Balanced development
The balanced development strategy for regional economies was put forward by the Party’s first generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Mao Zedong at the core. When the CPC led the Chinese people to “stand up,” it adhered to the inseparable relationship between cities and the countryside, blazing a revolutionary path of “using rural areas to encircle the cities.” 
Prior to the founding of the PRC in October 1949, the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh CPC Central Committee in March that year further clarified economic plans to be implanted after national victory in the revolution. Focus would be shifted in the Party’s work from rural to urban areas while still taking care of both, with production and construction as the central task. 
After New China was founded, the Party’s strategy centered around the socialist economic construction task based upon Marx and Engel’s theories on bonding industry with agriculture, integrating urban and rural areas, and distributing productive forces, thus putting forward a balanced development strategy for a socialist regional economy. 
First, the even allocation of productive forces was regarded as the fundamental economic principle. Emphasis was laid on rectifying the structural imbalance in the spatial layout of industry, so as to better meet needs of national defense and security. Efforts were called for to maximize the potential of coastal areas’ established industrial bedrock, to secure more support for inland industry, thereby narrowing the gap between coastal and inland areas, and realizing balanced development between different regions. 
Second, the CPC implemented a national industrialization and catching-up strategy, giving priority to heavy industry. Production and construction were promoted on a large scale across the nation. The Party advocated for material management, productive factor pricing, and production management in a planned manner to ensure that resources could be deployed freely to compensate for production and life materials needed by industrial development. Further, they beefed up industrial support for the balanced development of productive forces. 
Third, the central government’s and local authorities’ roles in economic development were both valued. Not only were central economic departments required to take the initiative, but local governments were also expected to play an active role in a bid to quicken the formation of a balanced regional development paradigm under the unified central leadership. 
Differentiated development
It took the CPC more than three decades to construct the differentiated development philosophy, which puts efficiency first, as it was seeking a socialist market economy system. The third plenum of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978 heralded reforms to the Chinese socialist economic system and institutional innovation, pointing to the strategic direction of shifting the focus to socialist modernization. 
Thereafter, in 1987, the 13th CPC National Congress formulated the guideline of “one central task and two basic points”— taking economic development as the central task and the Four Cardinal Principles [adherence to the socialist road; adherence to the people’s democratic dictatorship; adherence to the CPC leadership; and adherence to Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought] and reform and opening up as the two basic points. The 14th congress in 1992 formally set the goal of establishing a socialist market economic system. In the following year, the third plenum of the 14th CPC Central Committee first brought forth the income distribution principle of giving priority to efficiency with due consideration to fairness. 
Due to a series of new institutional designs and arrangements, growing importance was attached to enhancing efficiency in the spatial allocation of production factors and productivity distribution to direct regional economies towards a balanced development in the planned economy period to differentiated development. The content of the differentiation strategy could be summarized as follows.  
First, regional economic development should reflect the fundamental socialist task of unleashing productive forces and sticking to the efficiency-first principle; to maximize the potential of such production factors as labor, location, scale, scope, and endowment. 
Spatially, the socialist objective of ultimately realizing common prosperity was observed. Those who get rich first were encouraged to lead others towards prosperity, in order to further improve the efficiency of factor allocation and reallocation within a region and between different regions, driving regional economies to transition from balanced to differentiated development. 
Moreover, emphasis was placed on accurately grasping fundamental regional disparities in labor force, material capital, production technology, and resource endowment, to differentiate strategies for different regions alongside supporting market-based economic policies. 
In addition, both heterogeneity and homogeneity were taken into account to guide productivity allocation, and inspire all regions to fully utilize the market mechanism. A gradient pattern for regional economic growth came into being, characterized by cooperation in greater regions, the coexistence of the three major economic belts in eastern, central and western China, as well as the regional strategies of Western Development, Northeast Revitalization, Rise of Central China, and Accelerated Development of East China. For all regions, common ground was sought while differences were reserved. 
Coordinated development
Since socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, coordinated development has become essential to regional economies as the socialist market economy system matures. After years of differentiated development, some problems have loomed large in Chinese regional economies. For example, gaps are widening within a region and between regions; some central cities and metropolises have overly strong agglomeration abilities, and some regions face “structural subsidence.” The problems are hindering China’s push for high-quality development and the socialist orientation of common prosperity. Under such circumstances, the CPC came up with a relatively balanced, coordinated development strategy for regional economies. 
The coordinated development strategy first attaches more importance to developmental equity. It adheres to the people-centered development philosophy spatially, guides regional economic growth in accordance with materialistic dialectics, and aims to bridge gaps in regional development to expedite the simultaneous improvement of people’s well-being in different regions. 
Second, based on the three economic belts and the differentiated arrangements for eastern, western, central and northeastern China, the CPC proposed and has been carrying out major strategies like the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei coordinated development, the Yangtze River Economic Belt, the joint building of the Belt and Road initiative, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area, the integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta, the construction of free trade zones and ports, ecological conservation and high-quality development of the Yellow River Basin, and the building of the Chengdu-Chongqing dual-city economic circle, with the purpose to create a multi-point, multi-polar development pattern for regional economies.
The national economic roadmap is marked by city clusters consisting of core cities, secondary central cities, and nodal cities to foster growth poles that will lead national high-quality development. 
In addition, more attention has been paid to coordinating the spaces for production, life and ecology, building a more complete spatial governance system, fully implementing the functional zone strategy, detailing policy units for the functional zones, and formulating differentiated policies to create a sustainable development paradigm with effective main functions and improving resource and environment-bearing capacities.
Furthermore, regions are required to deeply explore their own advantages and complement each other, to shape an internationally influential and competitive production system, and organically integrate economic development, national security, and ecological construction. Developed regions should keep strengthening their abilities in value creation, those with outstanding ecological functions should speed up the building of an economic and social structure fitting the national carbon-neutral plan, and border areas should enhance their self-development capacities to safeguard national security and stability.
The CPC’s regional economic development strategy is an important component of the Chinese socialist economy. It embodies the Party’s long-term commitment to adjusting Marxism to China’s conditions and the times, and rooting theories and fundamental principles of Marxist political economics in the soil of Chinese socialist construction. 
Through these strategies, the CPC competently applies historical and dialectical materialism on the spatial dimension, and injects realistic vitality into the laws of unity of opposites, quantitative change leading to qualitative change, and negation of negation. 
As such, it has broken new ground in Marxist political economics and fruitfully guided the construction of the socialist economic theory system with Chinese characteristics, while providing practical guidance and academic principles for building a new paradigm of high-quality regional economic development. 
Ding Renzhong is a professor and Li Biao is an associate professor from the School of Economics at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics.