Penelope Prime, director of the China Research Center at Kennesaw State University, wants Georgia businesspeople to know that western China, a traditionally underdeveloped, land-locked region of the emerging industrial power, is now “open for business.”
“Western China is open for business, travel and lower labor costs. When you think of China, you shouldn’t just think of [eastern China] anymore,” Dr. Prime said upon her return from a recent trip to Yinchuan, Ningxia, in the northeastern quadrant of western China, where she helped organize a June 21-22 conference on rural and sustainable development for the region.
The conference was developed by the Consortium for Western China Development Studies, a non-governmental organization founded in 2003 by representatives of western Chinese and American universities. It is co-chaired by Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to the United Nations on development projects. The group is supported by Columbia University, as well as University of California at Davis, University of Michigan and the China Research Center at Kennesaw State.
Western China, which includes 11 provinces and autonomous regions plus one municipality, extends as far east as the Hunan and Hubei provinces and as far west as Russia, Kazakhstan and India, deep into the Himalayan Mountains. An area of roughly 3.34 million square miles, the region has been left largely undeveloped because of its distance from prominent seaports and its rugged geographic terrain, which includes deserts, mountains and plateaus, all with intermittent access to water, Dr. Prime said.
She estimates that the region is 10-15 years behind the development of eastern China, although investment is happening at a rapid pace, due, in part, to development policies and incentives implemented by the Chinese government in 1999 that have encouraged growth in the region.
Most of the region, however, is still in need of infrastructure investment including road, railroad and airport construction. Sound irrigation systems are also crucial to the region’s growth, as the more than 300 million people that inhabit the region rely on access to water. “Water is a big issue right now in the region,” Dr. Prime said. “There are areas that are irrigated and green, and then just beyond them it turns to dust.”
Developing strong education systems in the West and investing in human capital are also important objectives of Chinese officials and academics, Dr. Prime said. Implementing knowledge-based, service industry jobs in the region, such as those often used in outsourced call-centers, could help develop West China, despite its distance from seaports, she suggested.
This year’s conference, which attracted more than 200 participants, 35 of whom came from outside of China, was entirely hosted by Yinchuan’s Ningxia Academy of Social Science, representing a profound change in Chinese political culture, Dr. Prime noted. “It really represents the beginning of [China] developing [its] education sector separate from the government,” Dr. Prime said. “This is a really, really new phenomenon for China.”
Dr. Prime, who worked on her doctoral dissertation at Nanjing University in the eastern province of Jiangsu, speaks Mandarin and has studied regional Chinese development for almost 30 years. She acted as deputy secretary of the conference and is currently working on selecting position papers that were presented at the 2004 and 2005 conferences to compile into a book.
She is to participate in a conference at the University of Auvergne in Clermont-Ferrand, France, in October concerning China’s position in the international economy.
Dr. Prime can be reached at (770) 423-6579 or email@example.com. Visit www.chinacenter.net for more information on Kennesaw State’s China Research Center.