China's Economic Arteries

June 1, 2008
Development along the Yangtze River supports China's “Go West” economic expansion.

Since China’s opening up policy began 30 years ago, the coastal regions have enjoyed a sustained period of double-digit economic growth. Now, confronted with widening geographical wealth disparity, the central government is desperate to attract more investment to the relatively backward central and western parts of the country. Central to its “Go West” policy is the development of core transport infrastructure in and around the “Golden Waterway” —the Yangtze River.

Though container traffic volumes on the river surged to a record high of 5.54 million twenty-footequivalent units (TEUs) in 2007, the Yangtze is still an underutilized transport resource. Ongoing dredging at the mouth of the river contributed to the 38% increase in container volumes and a surge in overall shipping volumes that include bulk commodities. Yet nearly all of this activity takes place in the lower reaches: cargo throughput in the Jiangsu province ports up to Nanjing, just 300 km from the sea, accounted for two thirds of the Yangtze’s total in 2007.

The western development strategy, which began in 1999, will have achieved a number of important gaols by the end of this decade. Most important of all, the Three Gorges Dam will be completed, creating a year-round shipping channel that will allow 10,000 dead-weight-ton barge fleets to sail from Chongqing to Shanghai, a distance of 2,500 km, in no more than seven days. Huge sums of money are also being spent to build a Riverside Expressway, a Riverside Highway and a Riverside Railway, all running parallel to the Yangtze and due to open in the next few years.

A significant amount of development is also taking place at the local level. For example, Chongqing municipal government invested RMB 27 billion ($3.9 billion) in transportation infrastructure in 2007 alone. Five major road routes are also slated to be established by 2020 that include links from Chongqing to the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions. This will help establish Chongqing as a major logistics hub.

In January 2008, neighboring Sichuan province signed an agreement to build six railway lines that will pass through the province, most lines to be completed by 2012. The rail connections will link Chengdu to neighboring provincial capitals of Guiyang, Lanzhou, Kunming, Xian and Wuhan in less than four hours.

David Lammie is editor of Yangtze Transport 2008: Accessing China’s Interior

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