Ever since the announcement of the project, which the Chinese leadership declared as having “strategic importance,” the initiative has led to heated debates among analysts over the project, ranging from the geographic location of Xiongan and the government’s top-down approach to pushing forward the project.
One of the major questions regarding the new area is the relationship between Xiongan and Beijing, as the official description of the future of the Xiongan New Area is subject to different interpretation.
For example, according to the official announcement, Xiongan will be a smart, clean and eco-friendly city, without the various “urban ills” of China’s major cities, which suggests a mid-size city. The projection appears to be in accordance with the official narrative released by the State news agency Xinhua, which states that Xiongan’s “long-term” population will be between 2 and 2.5 million.
But in the meantime, the official announcement also states that Xiongan will take over Beijing’s “non-capital” functions, leading many analysts to liken the future relationship between Beijing and Xiongan to that between Washington and New York. Moreover, as Xiongan is described as a “1,000-year” project, and often compared with Shenzhen and Shanghai’s Pudong area, two of China’s biggest new areas and both cities have populations over 10 million, some expect Xiongan to become another major metropolis in the future.
According to Huang Qunhui, Director of the Institute of Industrial Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who recently completed a research project into Xiongan’s population and housing policy following the announcement, it is too early to speculate on the scale of the new city in the long term.
Based on existing data for population density in China’s major cities, Huang told NewsChina that the long-term population of Xiongan should be kept under five million. With a designated area of 2,000 square kilometers, a five-million population would lead to a population density of 2,500 people per square kilometer, a figure that is on a par with that of Beijing (1,324 per sq km), though considerably lower than that of Shenzhen (5,963) and Shanghai (3,816).
Huang said that with strong intervention from the government, it is realistic to expect that Xiongan’s population will reach two million within three to five years. “But to grow beyond that, it will depend on whether the new city is attractive to business and investment,” Huang added, “After all, the most fundamental problem for any city’s development is whether it can attract investment, and only when there are industries and jobs can there be new residents coming in.”
Besides attracting new investment and new workers, the area also needs to address the employment requirements of its current million residents.
Since the establishment of the Xiongan New Area in April, local authorities have shut down 9,000 factories, mostly small-scale, polluting manufacturing plants in the three counties that are included in the project. All pre-existing construction activities have also been put on hold, which has led to a surge in unemployment. According to Huang, while Xiongan should endeavor to attract green and innovative industries, it should prepare its local labor force for the service sector. To that end, the Xiongan authorities have launched various training programs across a variety of service industries.