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Zhejiang project aids common prosperity

Updated : 2022-07-18 (China Daily)

Mountain and sea collaboration effort links developed, underdeveloped areas

Despite the scorching weather, 50-year-old Chen Jiasheng still busies himself making noodles in his mill, swooping up fresh strands of noodles with a bamboo pole and hanging them on a stand to dry in the courtyard.

"We receive dozens of orders every day via various online channels and platforms, and many are repeat customers," Chen said. "Some are from as far as Tibet and Xinjiang, and I'm so glad our products can go that far."

Chen's mill in East China's Zhejiang province produces over 250 metric tons of noodles every year, and together with offline orders, annual sales can reach as much as 5 million yuan ($745,000).

"It is all thanks to the 'mountain and sea coordination and collaboration project' that we can now get rich by making noodles," he said.

The project is an initiative designed and implemented in the early 2000s under the auspices of President Xi Jinping, who was then working in Zhejiang.

The "mountain" refers to the mountainous areas in southwestern Zhejiang and the islands in the city of Zhoushan that are less developed, while the "sea" refers to those coastal cities and districts that are economically more prosperous.

By pairing underdeveloped regions with developed ones based on their own competitive advantages and resource endowment, the project seeks to achieve balanced and coordinated development in the province in areas such as economic development, healthcare and education.

Chen, who hails from the village of Doumulong, is just one of the many beneficiaries of the project, which covers 26 counties and districts in the mountainous areas.

"My noodle mill was built with financial help from Yuhang district in Hangzhou," he said.

Back in 2019, Chen attended various promotional events organized by Yuhang authorities aimed at helping farmers sell their agricultural produce to Hangzhou residents. In addition, their products were also stocked in local supermarkets. Orders quickly followed, but problems also ensued: Chen's supply couldn't keep up with demand.

Some 800,000 yuan was allocated from the mountain-sea project and in two months, an expanded noodle-making mill equipped with standardized machines was put into use.

"Since then, we've been able to produce more than 4,000 kilograms of noodles a day," Chen said. "The risks of bad weather affecting our production have also been significantly lowered."

Chen's fellow villagers have benefited directly and indirectly from his expanded business. Seven are now employed in his mill, and many more from the village, which has a population of a little over 1,000, have taken inspiration from his success and started their own businesses, supported by the project.

With 70 percent of its area covered by mountains and hills, Zhejiang's geographical conditions have always seen varied regional development.

For a long time the 26 counties and districts in the mountainous areas have lagged behind in terms of Zhejiang's overall growth. Statistics show that despite making up 44.5 percent of Zhejiang's total area, their total GDP accounted for only 9.65 percent of the province's total in 2020. The counties and districts' per capita GDP of 61,363 yuan is only 61.3 percent of the provincial average and 85.2 percent of the national average.

It is little wonder that the development of these places has long been a top priority of governments at various levels in Zhejiang. In 2021, the mountain and sea coordination and collaboration project was given new impetus, with the province designated as a demonstration zone for common prosperity, a term that has gained much popularity as the nation seeks to continue to narrow its wealth gap and improve people's quality of life after eradicating absolute poverty.

Last year, the authorities have taken a series of steps to upgrade the project so that it better meets the needs of high-quality development. One step involves formulating customized and preferential policies for each of the 26 counties and districts in the mountainous areas.

According to the policies, each place is encouraged to make the utmost of its existing conditions as well as find the most suitable path for future development.

Chun'an county in Hangzhou is focusing on the bottled water and beverages industry, while wooden toys make up the core industry in Yunhe county in the city of Lishui, which already exports all over the world. A characteristic industry for each of the 26 counties and districts is being sought.

A set of guidelines issued early this month by the provincial authorities to promote rural vitalization in these places has asked for the implementation of 10 broad measures and various targeted submeasures, including providing quality training to farmers to promote employment, sending more expert teams to these areas and developing at least one agricultural whole-industry chain worth a billion yuan in each of these counties and districts.

Progress has already been made.

According to the Zhejiang Provincial Bureau of Statistics, in 2021, the per capita disposable income of urban and rural residents in the 26 counties and districts in the mountainous areas were 53,710 and 27,619 yuan respectively, up 9.8 percent and 11.1 percent over the previous year, and 0.6 and 0.7 percentage points higher than the provincial average.

In the first quarter of this year, the GDP of these places reached 166.5 billion yuan, up 5.1 percent year-on-year, the same as that of the provincial average, bucking the trend of being continuously lower over the years. During the same period, the growth rates of fixed asset investment, general public budget revenue and the disposable income of residents in these counties and districts were also higher than the provincial average.

The mountain and sea coordination and collaboration project and the accompanying policies have already become part of Zhejiang's institutional arrangements for the pursuit of common prosperity, said Yu Jianxing, president of Zhejiang Gongshang University and a leading expert on public administration and governance.

"Over the past two decades, the implementation of the project has laid a solid foundation for a more balanced development in Zhejiang," Yu said. "More significantly, it will serve as a model for regional coordination in other provinces."