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Top-level design urged for integrating Beijing with neighbors

The country's top economic planner is studying a high-level cooperation scheme for Beijing and its neighbors to promote regional integrated development, according to an official.

Top-level design, which is being jointly considered by local authorities, should combine land use, urban construction and economic and social development plans, said Zhang Zhiqiang, head of the Development and Reform Commission of Tianjin Municipality on Friday.

Hebei Province, which neighbors Beijing and Tianjin, took the lead in unveiling two guidelines last week, which offered a clue to different roles of major cities in Hebei in regional development. Beijing and Tianjin have not yet announced any such plans.

The province will enlarge the size of Baoding to accommodate administrative organs, colleges and universities, research institutions, medical and nursing services, which will be transferred from Beijing, according to the documents.

Langfang, another Hebei city, will boost its service sector to serve as an ecological and recreational zone for the capital, according to the documents.

Hebei's plans came after Chinese President Xi Jinping called for coordinated development of the region around Beijing in late February.

Xi said urban layout and structure needs to be optimized and division of city functions enhanced when building the economic zone surrounding Beijing, adding that optimizing industrial distribution and overall planning for resources should be focused on.

Hebei is the leading choice for some functional and industrial transfers of Beijing and Tianjin and the plans are provincial-level designs, said Zhou Benshun, governor of Hebei.

Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei have a total population of 120 million. Beijing alone has 21 million and faces problems such as air pollution, traffic congestion and overcrowding.

Officials and experts say regional coordinated development is the only effective way for Beijing to solve its problems.

Closer cooperation among the three is under way. For example, they have a mechanism for joint prevention and control of air pollution. Construction of a new airport in Beijing will begin this year on the capital's outskirts neighboring Langfang.

However, the regional integration faces challenges in aspects like unbalanced industrial distribution and environmental pressures.

Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin reported the heaviest air pollution last year in the country, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Hebei boasts several of the most polluted cities such as its capital Shijiazhuang and Xingtai due to heavy industries like iron and steel. It plans to cut iron production capacity by 28 million tonnes and steel production capacity by 40 million tonnes by 2017.

"We must have a clear idea of the environment capacities of the three places so that we know what kind of industries and how much Hebei can take from Beijing or Tianjin," said Wu Yiqing, vice president of Hebei University of Economics and Business.

If the environment does not improve by 2017, steel capacities in Hebei may be further cut, said Wu.

The region has big food demand but Hebei's agriculture is at an initial phase of modernization, said Zhou.

"To push forward coordinated development is undoubtedly the right direction, but the process will not be smooth given the risks and challenges," said Wu.

Short, medium and long-term timetables should be formulated on the basis of consensus and coordination be strengthened to handle new problems in the process, he added.

To remove administrative barriers and push regional coordinated development will be one of the key reform tasks for Beijing this year, said Wang Anshun, mayor of the city.

Unified top-level design should be made for the integration of infrastructure, industries and market in the region, said Wang during the China Development Forum held on March 23-24 in Beijing.

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