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Go West Campaign

Since China started to open up its economy to the outside world in 1978, the coastal regions have roared ahead of the interior. Boosted by central government infrastructure building programmes and huge amounts of foreign direct investment, the country’s 11 coastal provinces and municipalities have prospered, leaving the rest of the country trailing in their wake.

This widening economic disparity has triggered a mass wave of migration within China, displacing millions of poor rural workers from the interior in search of better pay in coastal cities. It has also raised the prospect of simmering resentment in the countryside, something that has alarmed central government planners.

Their answer, devised as far back as the late 1980s and rubber-stamped by the National People’s Congress in early 2000, was the ‘go west’ campaign. This plan aims by the middle of the century to eliminate poverty and help to close the yawning economic gap between the coast and the 11 western provinces and one municipality that make up the interior: Chongqing, Gansu, Guangxi, Guizhou, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Tibet, Xinjiang and Yunnan.

A key element of the campaign was to establish Chongqing as the capital of western China. In 1997, the city was separated from Sichuan province and upgraded to municipality status under the direct control of the State Council, on a par with China’s other three municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.

The ‘go west’ campaign, spearheaded by China’s Premier Wen Jiabao himself, is effectively a programme of economic affirmative action. It involves large-scale funding for a range of huge infrastructure projects to lay the groundwork for future development, together with a range of tax and other incentives calculated to attract foreign investment to inland provinces.

The key to the campaign’s success is modernising the Yangtze. For centuries it has been the most important east-west transport artery in China. By investing in the Yangtze and its supporting road and rail network, the central government is preparing the ground for manufacturers to access the vast and largely untapped market in China’s interior, helping to facilitate an efficient and effective supply of raw materials, components and finished products into and out of the region.

More information on the opening up of China’s interior can be found in Chapter 1 of Yangtze Transport: Accessing China's Interior.
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