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.
Other statistics showed that between 2003 and 2007, the trade volume between Guangxi and ASEAN countries tripled; paid-in investment to Guangxi from the ASEAN area increased 1.8 times and that from Guangxi to ASEAN increased 5.4 times.
To better take advantage of the CAFTA, a Beibu Gulf Economic Zone was created in March 2006. Guangxi is at the northernmost point of the gulf, which is the largest in the northwest part of the South China Sea.
In January 2008, the Chinese Government approved the development plan of the Beibu Gulf Economic Zone, including it in the national development strategy blueprint. This is China's first and only regional and international economic cooperation area.
"The development of the four cities in the Beibu Gulf features the heavy chemical industry and port logistics and relies on supporting industries in other parts of Guangxi. It's like the relationship between forefront and rear," said Du Ping, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission.
With the support of the Central Government, a batch of key industrial projects were started in the Beibu Gulf Economic Zone. Projects under construction, and those planned add up to a total investment of 300 billion yuan ($43 billion). Now the economic zone has become the engine for the economic development of the whole region.
"The growth rate of the Beibu Gulf zone surpassed 16 percent over the last two years. In the next three years its economic aggregate should take up 33 percent of the whole region," said Guo.
Though the international and domestic economy is slowing down, the Beibu Gulf zone has maintained strong growth momentum in the first half of 2008, achieving an increase of 17 percent over the same period last year, 4.5 percentage points higher than the region's average, according to Chen Ruixian, an official with the management committee of the economic zone.
Chen also noted that Guangxi has decided to allocate an annual 1 billion yuan ($144 million) for the next five straight years from 2008 toward infrastructure construction in the key industrial parks in the gulf economic zone. "Such a big allocation indicates the region's resolution and confidence to step up gulf zone economic development," said Chen.
"We are expanding our cooperation to let more investors into the gulf zone," said Guo. By 2010, the gulf zone will become a nest for such pillar industries as petrifaction, metallurgy, food processing and electronic information, achieving a total industrial output value of 300 billion yuan ($ 43 billion), doubling that of 2007.
In May 2005, the Qinzhou Bonded Harbor Area was sanctioned to be established as the core platform of the development of the Beibu Gulf Economic Zone. This is China's sixth economic zone and the first in the country's western region, with a planned area of 10 square km.
"The establishment of the Qinzhou Bonded Harbor Area is an important means for the gulf zone to be involved in the global economy," said Chen, who added that Guangxi would earmark a special fund of 445 million yuan ($64 million) to support the project's construction in the harbor area.
Beibu Gulf has a big development potential because of its rich resources and favorable ecological system, said China's reputed economist Fan Gang.
The gulf zone will be China's fourth growth powerhouse after the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta and the Bohai-rim Economic Circle, according to Li Wuwei, Vice Chairman of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.