It will be the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on December 11. "It's planned that China will achieve an all-round well-off society by 2020, thus Guangxi has to achieve leapfrog development," said Guo Shengkun, Secretary of the Party Committee of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Guangxi ranked 17th in GDP among the 31 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions on the Chinese mainland, while the region's per-capita GDP ranked 26th in 2007, 61 percent of the national average.
Bordering Viet Nam, Guangxi is located in the south of China and is one of the country's five ethnic autonomous regions with a large population of minority ethnic groups. The population of the region is 50 million, of which 19 million are minority people, making up 38 percent.
With the advancing of China's opening up to the outside world, the underdeveloped region has entered a fast-paced development track. Statistics show that Guangxi has achieved double-digit annual growth averaging 12.7 percent for five consecutive years, higher than the national average level. In 2007, the growth rate rose to 15.1 percent.
Despite this, Guo is not satisfied with the achievement. "We have to keep up and speed up," he said.
The region made a development plan in 2007, which said that by 2010 its GDP should exceed 1 trillion yuan ($145 billion).
In this regard Guangxi is supposed to foster pillar industries such as food, nonferrous metals, petrifaction, metallurgy, autos, machinery and power, achieving an industrial added value that should make up 40 percent of the overall production value.
There has not been a major conflict between ethnic groups since the region was founded 50 years ago, said Ma Biao, Chairman of the autonomous region, during a group-media interview. The harmonious ethnic coexistence is one of the key factors that have helped propel the fast development of the region, he added.
According to Ma, there are 410,000 minority officials in the region, accounting for 36 percent of the total. The top leaders in the region's 12 autonomous counties and 58 autonomous townships are all from minority groups.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a framework agreement to forge all-round economic cooperation in 2002 and decided to set up a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) in 2010. This will be the world's third largest free trade zone after the North American Free Trade Area and the European Union. It is the largest free trade area for developing countries.
The plan to build CAFTA has already brought unprecedented opportunity to the region, which is still comparatively backward despite its geographical advantages. Guangxi is the only region that can offer connections across both land and water between China and ASEAN countries. It is also the most convenient gateway to enter the ASEAN area with a border of 1,000 km. There are direct links from the capital city Nanning to Singapore and Hanoi in Viet Nam on land and to the Strait of Malacca by the sea.
The region will pump some 300 billion yuan ($43 billion) into constructing a three-dimensional transportation network including railways, highways, waterways and airways in the next five years, to build it into a regional and international traffic hub. By 2012, there will be full links between Guangxi and the bordering ASEAN countries by land, water and air.
As an important platform for the CAFTA, the China-ASEAN Expo has been held annually since 2004, and the capital city Nanning has been designated as the permanent expo location.
The fifth session of the expo, which fell between October 22 and 25 this year saw projects signed worth a total investment of 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion).
Statistics from the region's commerce bureau showed that in the first half of 2008, investment from ASEAN nations totalled $80 million in the region, 4.6 times more than the same period last year. In the same period, the region's total foreign trade import and export value reached $6.4 billion, of which the value with the ASEAN region hit $2.2 billion.