In 1999, the Chinese government publically announced its official plan to develop western China. Its goal is to try to achieve a satisfactory level of economic development in the western part of the country in a five-to-ten-year frame and to establish a “new western China” by the middle of the 21st century. In its view, at the end of the period, all people in the region will enjoy economic prosperity, social stability, ethnic unity and an ecologically healthy and sustainable landscape. To achieve such results, China has already begun to speed up the building of extensive infrastructure projects in the western region. Water conservancy, energy, telecommunications and urban facilities have been placed at the top of the government’s “Western Region Development Strategy” agenda.
So, the multi-billion dollar, multi-year western region development strategy is apparently being pursued with the idea in mind to erase existing political, economic, social and cultural cleavages between east and west. In addition to committing its own resources to this Herculean economic endeavor, Chinese leaders are seeking investment in their western development plans from international sources such as the World Bank, the Asia Development Bank and international corporations such as the Ford Motor Company and various oil companies. As stated by a Ford Motor Company representative, the western provinces have the right conditions for foreign investment: abundant natural resources and cheap labor. In addition to financial support for this long-term development effort, the government is also seeking moral and political support. Each new foreign investment supplies some of that.
How best to manage economic and social development in the western region, however, is still at the heart of the “Western Region Development Strategy.” For example, four major projects are placed in the fundamental positions: a south-to-north water diversion, a west-to-east natural gas transfer, a “West-to-east power transmission” and the construction of a Qinghai-Tibet Railway. These projects are being launched and some have been accomplished.