Closing the urbanization gap: China’s 1983-2013 Economic Development Zone strategy
A statistical study recently highlighted the link between investment in China’s numerous Economic Development Zones (EDZs) and urban growth in the country between 1983 and 2013. EDZs are areas with preferential business policies established to stimulate investments and cross-border trade.
According to the article, in 2006 China counted 6.015 EDZsof various categories managed by national, provincial or municipal authorities[i] . Originally, and especially during the “Development Zone Fever” of the early 1990s, EDZs were created in coastal regions in eastern China to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and favor exportations at a time when China was the world’s factory. Then, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, EDZs were gradually established in smaller agglomerations in central and western China.
Although others factors obviously contributed to the country’s rapid urban development, this study emphasizes that the purpose of the expansion of EDZs westwards was to achieve a geographical balance between Eastern and Western China. Therefore, the study demonstrates how the EDZ strategy was used as an institutional tool to divert FDI to specific regions and cities to reduce development inequalities between the wealthy eastern coastal areas and the rest of the country.
[i] The size of EDZs generally doesn’t extend to a whole city, but rather to a district‘s scale. Moreover, different types of EDZ can be superimposed on the same area (Export Processing Zone and Border Economic Cooperation Zone for example).