The Tianjin-Beijing Bohai triangle accounts for around nine percent of national GDP, with per capita incomes well above the national average. The primary driving force behind economic development in the area has been due to the twin poles of the two cities: Beijing, the seat of political authority, and Tianjin, the capital’s gateway to the sea and hence the wider world. The region also includes some cities in Hebei, Shandong and Liaoning provinces, many of which are at different stages of development.
Economic development in the triangle, in contrast to the PRD and to a lesser extent the YRD, has in the past been restricted by an overall lack of coordination, which has to a large degree been the result of different administrative regions, each with separate responsibilities. This administrative fragmentation has often meant that regions within the triangle often see themselves as in competition with neighbouring municipalities and counties.
The third largest city in China and the industrial capital of the northeast, Tianjin is one of China’s four municipalities directly under the control of the central government – the others being Shanghai, Chongqing and Beijing. Located 120 km southwest of Beijing the city is linked to the capital by high-speed train at a maximum speed of 350 km per hour unveiled in 2008 in time for the opening of the Beijing Olympics. The introduction of the service has effectively put the city in the commuter belt of the capital, and vice versa, greatly enhancing economic integration between the two. The shift of passengers from the conventional rail network has also freed the older network for utilisation as a freight route.
In recent years the government has worked hard to promote the region with aggressive spending on infrastructure in an attempt to draw investment from the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas and to rejuvenate the de-industrialised former heartland of Chinese manufacturing; the northeast. As part of this strategy, Beijing has earmarked the Bohai Bay as a cornerstone and strategic component of the 11th Five Year Plan, pinning its hopes on improved logistics access to the region drawing much needed foreign direct investment. And, looking at how the region is currently faring, it may have worked better than intended.
Observers believe that the global financial crisis will impact Tianjin Port less than ports in the southern coastal region primarily because Tianjin’s port throughput is less reliant on the purely export driven consumer good cargoes that many of the southern regions have traditionally relied on.
Tianjin has managed to attract several high-value, high-tech processing industries to its Free Trade Zone. These include Delixi and other enterprises from Zhejiang, as well as Kingway and ZTE from Shenzhen.
Indeed, in recent years, Tianjin has had tremendous success in attracting such industries to the region, in part due to the city’s connectivity to Beijing Capital Airport and the air cargo expansions to Tianjin Airport and the attached processing zone. Furthermore, this expansion has, according to officials at the FTZ, already courted investment from the likes of Lufthansa, Korean Air, Singapore Temasek Shu-feng, and Taiwan’s Arima Air Cargo Terminals among others.
- More competitive in cost terms than other major economic hubs in China, the region is increasingly being seen as a softer, easier alternative to the Go-West strategy
- Pools of cheap labour and good quality supporting infrastructure exist to service industries that choose to relocate there
- Ambitious expansion projects are already underway at Tianjin port, as well as Dalian and other ports in the region, with the long-term aim of developing a Northeast Shipping Centre to rival the Shanghai Shipping Centre down the coast.
- High-speed rail links already connect Beijing and Tianjin, greatly enhancing economic integration and cooperation in the region.
- Tianjin port, among others in the Bohai Rim, is less dependent on direct export goods than many ports in the south of the country and has proved itself a bulwark against the main impact of the economic downturn, suffering only a slight fall in throughput figures.