Thirty-one provincial-level regions recently disclosed their gross domestic product and related data for last year. The statistics provide much food for thought on the regional development gap in the country.
With a GDP of 12.91 trillion yuan ($1.9 trillion) and 12.29 trillion yuan last year, respectively, Guangdong and Jiangsu were the top two among all the provincial-level regions. The combined GDP of these two provinces accounts for about 20 percent of the national total, and is of a similar size with the total volume of the GDP of the bottom 15 in the rankings.
A few years back, Guangdong and Jiangsu's combined GDP was comparable to that of about 10 regions in the lower half of the rankings. The rise is relative to the deceleration of growth of the three provinces in Northeast China — Liaoning, Heilongjiang and Jilin.
For most of the last century, the three provinces, strong in heavy industry and rich in resources, known as the Ruhr of the Far East, were in the first half of the rankings. Now they have become the largest Rustbelt region of the country because of multiple factors, such as a brain drain, aging population, depletion of natural resources, out-dated management, and obsolete technology and equipment. Over the past two decades, the region has not yet hit upon a successful new development model or cultivated new reliable growth drivers.
It is the second echelon in the rankings, which consists of Shandong, Zhejiang, Henan, Sichuan, Hubei, Fujian, Hunan and Anhui provinces, whose GDP was between 4 and 9 trillion yuan last year, that is the main driving force of growth in the country.
Compared to the third echelon, such as Hebei, Shaanxi and Jiangxi, whose growth potential remains untapped, the second-echelon provinces either have their comparative strengths in industry structure or rich labor forces or are close to the Pearl River and Yangtze River delta regions, and they are crucial to promoting the country's highquality development as a whole.
There is fierce competition among them as they are all striving to be first in the group. That's the same case for Guangdong and Jiangsu. Although Guangdong has topped the list for 34 years in a row, Jiangsu has quickly reduced the gap in recent years.
While tilting more resources to the less-developed regions, policymakers should make good use of the competition among provincial economies to turn it into a spur for innovation rather than a hindrance to integrated regional development.