Delta restructuring, or the politics of economic expansion

In the  Chinese administration of economic inequality, higher rankings may be converted into better opportunities. Indeed, that’s the point: to grow the stronger and pull everyone else into the future with you (which is one possible interpretation of the Shanghai debate about “adjusting” the economic dance of cities that constitute the Yangtse Dragon). Anyway, the ranking of each of Guangdong’s 21 地市 cities are:

1. Guangzhou; 2. Shenzhen; 3. Foshan; 4. Zhuhai; 5. Shantou; 6. Shaoguan; 7. Heyuan; 8. Meizhou; 9. Huizhou; 10. Shanwei; 11. Dongguan; 12. Zhongshan; 13. Jiangmen; 14. Yangjiang; 15. Zhejian; 16. Maoming; 17. Zhaoqing; 18. Chaozhou; 19. Jieyang; 20. Yunfu; 21. Qingyuan.

This ranking scheme interests me because it formalizes the power shifts that have occurred in the PRD as a result of Reform and Opening. According to Governor Huang Huahua, Guangdong has all sorts of plans for the next year (and yes, the year begins after Chinese New Year, no matter what the rest of the planet is up to), including deepening the integration of the Pearl River Delta, which is  Guangdong’s equivalent of an economic dragon and includes Hong Kong by way of Shen Kong connections.

The five measures to further mesh the political-economies of the Delta cities and feed the economic dragon are:


First, to establish a leadership coordination system. To mediate and solve cross boundary problems, there will be a Delta coordinating committee led by the governor and including relevant provincial ministries and the nine mayors from the Delta cities. Second, to establish a working system to direct different areas. There will be a system for coordinating work in the three economic circles of Guangzhou/Foshan/Zhaoqing, Shenzhen/Dongguan/Huizhou, and Zhuhai/Zhongshan/Jiangmen as well as establishing a joint conference system, which will move from these smaller areas toward integrating the entire delta. Third, to strengthen integration in five areas — basic infrastructure, industry development, urban-rural planning, environmental protection, and ecological development. Fourth, more integration of large scale projects. Fifth, to strengthen integrated oversight.

The delta is divided into three ranked regions — center, east, and west. Each region has an internal ranking and core city — Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai, respectively. Back in the day, however, the PRD west coast was both politically more important and significantly richer than the east. And on the eastern banks, Shenzhen was subordinate to #9 Huizhou, and well before that also subordinate to #11 Dongguan. Zhuhai, of course, was also less important than either Zhongshan or Jiangmen.

In other words, PRD restructuring means that local economies are being subordinated to a view of a political whole, which is increasingly urban, capitalist, and regional at a scale. It will be interesting to see how dependent these new oversight committees remain on local social structures and if the inclination of the committees tilts toward Beijing or along the Guangzhou – Shenzhen – Hong Kong axis.

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