"Western Development" has become a buzzword in China over the past decade. It has appeared almost everywhere: in government documents, media reports and even ordinary people's conversations. It has become a national campaign in the new century, with a wide variety of resources—human, financial and material—flowing to the western part of the country.
Indeed, miracles have occurred in the vast and underdeveloped interior. The visible hand that has been propping up west China's rise is, without a doubt, the Western Development Strategy launched by the Chinese Government a decade ago.
While reviewing the policy, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this January, we can firmly say it was the right choice made at the right time.
Ten years ago, with the reform and opening-up policy already 20 years old, China's eastern coastal region was already on the fast track of development. But regional disparities began to show up clearly between the east and the inland, especially the faraway west, due to an imbalance in development. Bridging the east-west gap was essential for the country to realize all-around development.
Meanwhile, the economic strength accumulated after 20 years of reform and opening up allowed the country to launch a sound strategy to boost the underdeveloped western region.
The strategy and a national effort have gradually paid off. The past 10 years have witnessed the fastest economic growth of the western region. Western growth contributed substantially to the country's nearly doubt-digit annual average growth of GDP in the past 10 years.
The government's strategy has also brought an "invisible hand" into play. With an improved physical and economic infrastructure, and low labor and resource costs, the western region is attracting more industries from the developed eastern region.
Amid the financial crisis, while the export-oriented east lost momentum, the western region played an important role in creating jobs and boosting domestic consumption.
However, with a weak base the western region still lags behind the developed east despite the favorable growth rates. The regional disparity between the east and the west still exists, causing top Chinese leaders to reiterate that the country will remain committed to the strategy.
While progress has been made, China's Western Development Strategy still has a long way to go.