On October 28th 2002, Xi’an and Xianyang signed the Integration Agreement. However, after more than a decade of construction, the integration process has not achieved the desired results, in particular that the construction of the Xi’an-Xianyang New District.
Xi’an and Xianyang are two adjacent cities, located only 25km apart from each other in Shaanxi province. The advantages of this geographic proximity as well as the complementary resources in the two cities fueled the initial push for the integration project. This long-term strategy is considered as an important milestone in the process of turning Xi’an into an international metropolis.
“Xianyang has vast lands available to develop, while Xi’an is more attractive to outside investment. Thus, the integration of Xi’an and Xianyang will benefit both cities.” Zhao Binzheng, director of Xianyang Urban and Rural Construction and Planning Bureau, explained.
In the Integration Agreement, there are “Eight Policies”. On September 15th 2006, Xi’an and Xianyang realized the merge in telecommunication by unifying their area codes. Since then, calling between the two cities is no longer considered as inter-city.
Issues of Merging Traffic System
The merging of the two cities’ traffic systems is another important part of the “Policies.” Although highways linking the two cities have already been established, the public transportation system is far from being complete.
Currently, there are three Xianyang buses and two Xi’an buses running between the two cities, but these intercity buses only reach the city borders.
“Usually I need to switch three buses from my home to my university. Due to the low quantity of buses, I often need to wait for a long time and the buses are always full of people,” said Yang Jinyu, who is living in Xianyang and studying in Xi’an Jiaotong University. “It takes me more than two hours by bus while driving only takes less than half an hour.”
Addressing this, Zhang Wei, an officer from the Xianyang Transportation Administration Bureau, explainedthat it is difficult to combine two cities traffic systems due to conflicts of interest.
“Both Xi’an and Xianyang have developed transportation systems, and both cities fear competition in the operation of their transportation systems and inequality in the allocation of resources,” Zhang Wei explained. “Thus, stopping the bus on the border is the only feasible solution for now.”
On September 16th 2011, the Xi’an metro opened. Besides covering most of Xi’an, it also stops at a station in the suburbs on the outskirts of Xianyang. However, residents still need to switch buses to go to downtown, where most of them work.
On September 23th 2013, a high-speed rail between Xi’an and Xianyang began operation. The whole trip only takes 13 minutes, but passengers spend at least an hour getting from the railway stations to downtown of either city.
“As for the intercity transportation systems, I have to admit that the integration process is not satisfactory,” Fan Weibin of Shaanxi Development and Reform Commission (DRC) commented. “But we are still working on it.”
Issues of Xixian New District
The failure of the integration project to meet the expectation of the authority was most evident in the development of Xi’an-Xianyang New District (Xixian New District).
On February 21th 2010, in order to promote the integration process, Shaanxi provincial government decided to create Xixian New District, an area designated as an important biotechnology and manufacturing industry zone.
Located at the intersection of municipal boundaries, Xixian New District consists of five member cities–Jinghe New City, Konggang New City, Fengdong New City, Fengxi New City, and Qin-Han New City.
“The population will reach over 10 million from the current 4 million in the urban area, which will double in size.” Shaanxi governor Yuan Chunqing predicted.
However, the current construction area in Xixian New District measures only 272 square kilometers, while the total planned area is 882 square kilometers.
Zhang Baotong, President of Shaanxi Urban Economic and Cultural Research Council, expresses his opinions on the construction of Xixian New District:“The five member cities have not utilized their respective advantages due to an unclear division on the administrative level.”
According to the General Plan, the premise of developing Xixian New District is to preserve the current administrative division. Thus, although the Administrative Committee handles the construction of Xixian New District, local governments also have rights to administer them. Consequently, the two groups often confuse their roles on certain issues.
“The Administrative Committee has to negotiate with local governments for each construction project. However, since the construction relates to performance evaluation, local authorities each demands the best resources for themselves because of the competing interests. It is difficult to plan the development of the district as a whole,” Zhang Baotong said.
Zhang Baotong also pointed out that under the premise of preserving administrative divisions, the relationship between Xi’an, Xianyang, and Xixian New District is more of a competition than cooperation.
“Since 4 of the 5 member cities are located around Xianyang, most of the achievements, like GDP and population increases are attributed to Xianyang. It does create any values for the effort of turning Xi’an into an international metropolis,” Zhang Baotong said. “The competition of interest also undermines the motivation of the Xi’an government and the Administrative Committee to construct Xixian New District.”
In April 2011, a year after the designation of Xixian New District, the Xianyang municipal government established the Beiyuan City in northwest of Xianyang. According to the Development Strategy, Beiyuan City is considered as “the main battlefield of Xianyang’s development in the coming decades.” One year later, on August 16th 2012, Xi’an municipal government established Weibei Industrial District in northeastern Xi’an.
“Currently, the development trend is tripartite confrontation but not integration,” Zhang Baotong observed. “Xianyang and Xi’an are trying to development their own district but not the Xixian New District.”
Responses from Government Officials
Facing public queries on issues regarding administrative division, Fan Weibin admitted that because Xi’an and Xianyang governments both have independent financial and political authorities, it is difficult for the DRC and Administrative Committee to promote the integration process.
“Take intercity bus system as an example, DRC has convened several meetings with Shaanxi, Xi’an and Xianyang Department of Transportation, but failed to reach an agreement,” Fan Weibin admitted.
Some government officials have also expressed their interpretations of reasons for the slow pace of construction.
“You can’t expect the integration process and the construction of Xixian New District to have a substantial breakthrough in a few years,” Fan Weibin said. “It is a long-term development strategy. The construction of Binhai New District in Tianjin has taken more than ten years. ”
Zhu Fangang, an officer in the Industrial Policy and Regional Economic Branch of the Xianyang DRC, said that the integration process is proceeding in an orderly manner and the slow pace is not out of the ordinary.
“The public views the integration pace as slow because the early works, such as unifying area codes, can present immediate results, while the results of current works on the construction of infrastructure are not obvious in the short-term.,” Zhu Fangang explained.
Jia Yuanhao, a Xianyang citizen who lives in the nearby Qin-Han City, expressed a similar opinion.
“Although there is not much business investment yet, the achievement of environmental management is visible. No one would believe that right here used to be a discarded, dirty and messy village,” Jia Yuanhao reflected.
Li Ziqing, the director of Shaanxi Construction Bureau, said that the lack of national support is another important factor that impedes the construction of Xixian New District.
According to Li Ziqing, since 2010, when Shaanxi provincial government first came up with the idea of Xixian New District, the mission was to make the district a national pilot region for comprehensive reforms. However, because the integration of Xi’an and Xianyang is a project of the local authorities and not in accordance with policies of the state in developing trans-provincial economic zones, Xixian New District was not recognized by the central government until January 2014.
“Now Xixian New District has become a national district like Binhai New District. It can enjoy the benefits of preferential policies. With the support of national and Shaanxi provincial government, Xixian New District has a good development prospect. ” Li Ziqing said.
Also, Fan Weibin said despite all the complications and setbacks, the construction of Xixian New District has achieved several of its goals.
“The GDP of Xixian New District in the first half of 2014 is 170.37 million RMB, attaining a year-to-year growth of 12.3%,” said Fan Weibin. “I have confidence that in the future, it will make more progress.”