BEIJING, April 30 (Xinhua) -- The call for economic integration along the Yangtze river has been welcomed as way of bring more energy to the country's slowing economy.
During a tour of western regions this week, Premier Li Keqiang brought leaders from 11 provinces and municipalities along the river together for a discussion on creating an economic belt along the river, connecting the relatively developed eastern region with central and western areas.
The river runs east to west over 6,300 km and is the world's third largest in terms of its length and water volume. The so-called "golden waterway" joins impoverished inland provinces like Guizhou to the prosperity of Shanghai.
National Bureau of Statistics data show combined GDP of the 11 provinces and municipalities along the river amounted to 2.6 trillion yuan (415 billion U.S. dollars) last year, 41.2 percent of the national total.
Waterway development will provide new development stimuli for over 600 million people. As Li pointed out, the transportation network on the Yangtze waterway is still underdeveloped. If better use were made of the waterway, all of local economies would benefit.
In his report to the annual session of the National People's Congress in March, Li explained how China will exploit the waterway by developing an economic belt along its banks. Waterway development could balance regional growth and encourage businesses to relocate from the crowded coasts areas to less developed inland areas.
Clusters of major cities along the Yangtze, especially the Yangtze Delta, already contribute substantially to the economy. However, as coastal regions slow down, middle and western cities like Wuhan, Chengdu and Chongqing along the waterway have showed strong GDP growth, outfacing those of the coastal regions.
For example, Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, has a booming automobile industry and GDP grew at 10.1 percent last year, as compared with 7.7 percent in Shanghai. About 700 km west of Shanghai, Wuhan already uses the Yangtze waterway to ship out many auto products.
Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, best known for pandas and a leisurely lifestyle, saw growth of 10 percent last year. The city has become a major IT center, with about 70 percent of global iPads and half of Intel's high-end chips made there.
The middle and western cities along the river are important regional rail, road and water transportation hubs.
Lu Feng of the Center of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, told Xinhua on Tuesday that development of the Yangtze waterway was one of many regional economic integration projects, including coordinated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province.
"The Central Government hopes the new economic belts can yield new growth points at a time when the growth in both the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas has slowed," he said.
The Yangtze waterway links the developed and backward:the two municipalities of Shanghai and Chongqing and nine provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou. Levels of development are very different in coastal regions and inland. The success of opening-up and reform since the 1980s has been mainly a coastal phenomenon.
Hou Yongzhi, State Council development strategist, said the economic belt joins the east, central and west in a natural way. China's economy must maintain a certain speed to improve people's lives. As the economy comes under pressure, the Yangtze economies, with strong manufacturing and research capacities, can accommodate industries transferred from coastal regions.