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A Science and Research Hub

Central planners are taking great pains to attract educational institutions to Xiongan New Area with some preliminary success

By Fu Yao Updated Dec.31

All eyes are on whether Beijing’s science and research institutions will choose to expand or even relocate to the fields and towns of the Xiongan New Area. When the initiative was announced earlier this year, He Lifeng, Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) stressed to the State news agency Xinhua that it was vital to use innovation as a driving force to establish Xiongan as a new science and technology city. This means creating the right policy settings and environment to attract talent.  

Research Hub? 
On August 23, 2015, China’s central authority released an outline on the collaborative development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, which described their new roles. As China’s capital, Beijing was to be the political, cultural and international communication center as well as a hub of scientific and technological innovation. Under the new plan, Beijing will focus on these four major functions and shift so-called“non-capital functions,” such as education, health and training institutions, elsewhere.  

In keeping with this strategy, Beijing’s education reform and development plan (2016-2020), released in September 2016, included provisions that encouraged some colleges and universities to move out of Beijing and set up joint projects with counterparts in the wider region.  

According to a Xiongan Reform and Development Bureau source who was not authorized to speak publicly, the body was in talks with 14 colleges and universities, all of which expressed a willingness to move or expand to Xiongan.  

On May 11, Peking University (PKU) Party Secretary Hao Ping visited Xiongan to meet officials from Hebei Province, agreeing that PKU would set up a high-level medical center in Xiongan. PKU’s Guanghua School of Management would also establish a training center aimed at high-level management training; a PPP (public private partnership) center would be established to serve the construction of Xiongan; and PKU would provide talent and resources for Xiongan’s future planning and development. 

The Xiongan source told NewsChina that Beijing Forestry University, Beijing Normal University and Beijing Sport University were all eyeing the zone for opportunities.  

At the end of August, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences president Cao Xuetao visited Xiongan and announced the institute would set up a branch there that will serve as the academy’s graduate school. The project will include a health and medical database, a medical research platform and ecological technology transfer.  

Preliminary Education 
Beijing and Hebei signed strategic agreements in August that included a pledge from Beijing to grow the elementary education system.  

Beijing promised to construct one high-quality kindergarten, one elementary school, one middle school and one hospital. The facilities will be operated with the support of top institutions in Beijing. Xiongan also chose another three schools and one hospital within it to obtain management and IT support.  

A source at the Xiongan Reform and Development Bureau who was not authorized to speak publicly told NewsChina that a number of top schools, including the high school affiliated to the Renmin University of China and the kindergarten and elementary school affiliated to Tsinghua University all expressed a willingness to support basic education in Xiongan.  

“Xiongan New Area’s public services must take into account certain realities, like the local demography,” the source said. “More young people will arrive, and as a young city it will need public facilities like kindergartens. Right now we are closely observing the policies of the department of urban and rural planning as well as the population planning department.”  

Following the call to accelerate the transfer of non-capital functions from Beijing and to bolster Hebei’s education system, Beijing’s Bayi Middle School opened a Baoding campus, in Hebei, in September 2016 with an investment of 450 million yuan (US$67.5 million). The complex includes not just classrooms but a hanging garden, a glass-roofed swimming pool, a theater and an indoor stadium.  

Health institutions expanding from Beijing include Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control and Beijing Health Inspection Institute to support Xiongan. However, the source said the Xiongan was seriously lacking in health personnel.  

Cultivating Innovation 
Experts have discussed the importance of cultivating Xiongan industrial development in order to draw in talent.   

Rongcheng county in Hebei Province is home to more than 900 garment manufacturers which together employ more than 70,000 staff. In June 2015, the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology began to develop internship programs with major companies in Rongcheng. In June 2017, the institute set up a “fashion industrial park” of some 314 square kilometers which provides for every element of garment design, including studio space, designers’ shops, a runway, digital service center and more. The main goal of the park was to provide high-level design and production support for the region’s garment industry.  

“Xiongan will shoulder the responsibility for innovation and it will become the Silicon Valley of China,” Zhang Yansheng of the NDRC told the press in a recent interview. He said Beijing lacks the physical space to provide for the career development of intellectuals and talent from universities or science and research institutes. Xiongan will be vital for this purpose and it will stimulate the vitality of the wider region, he claimed.  

“Without Stanford University, there would be no Silicon Valley in the US, because Stanford University provides science and technology talent for the latter, and creates a platform for innovation,” said Chen Yao of the Institute of Industrial Economics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Yao cautioned that Xiongan and Beijing should be careful to focus on different kinds of innovation, however. Multiple sources told NewsChina that Beijing would position itself as the source of innovation for high-tech research and development, while the site of commercialization and implementation of such technology will be Xiongan.  

“Indeed, many of China’s cities compete for resources, including the commercialization of science and technological achievements, by providing favorable policies to attract business. But compared with them, Xiongan enjoys a far more important strategic position, and is likely to attract young talent from across the nation,” said Chen Yao.  

Since Xiongan was established, there has been intense interest in whether it can mimic the success of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and Shanghai’s Pudong New Area. Historically, both have aimed to develop and attract educational resources and technologies. According to Professor Li Guoping of the Beijing Development Institute at PKU, different histories and developmental stages make each new area and special zone unique.  

“With China’s economic changes we have shifted into an innovation-driven mode of development. The development of Shenzhen took the efforts of the entire nation providing resources to build the market and upscale production, but Xiongan won’t operate in that mode,” Li said. “Xiongan will require more precise, targeted development. The goal for Xiongan is not to be large, but to be of high quality.”