Nation reshaped by rapid urbanization

Editor's Note: The rise of urban clusters is undoubtedly a significant impetus propelling China's economic miracle. In a recent interview with the Global Times (GT) reporters Bai Yunyi and Wang Yi, Alain Bertaud (Bertaud), a former chief urban planner at the World Bank and author of "Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities," discussed the rise of Chinese urban clusters and the influence on China's economic growth.

Bertrand brings a wealth of research experiences and unique insights to his analysis of the exceptional performance of major urban clusters like the Yangtze River Delta and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area city clusters. He highlights the significance of scale, agglomeration effect, and innovation capability in the clusters, which underscores the great potential for enhancing China's productivity and lifting Chinese people's broad livelihood. 

GT:Have you visited China in recent years? What impressions do you have of the development of Chinese cities and urban clusters?

Bertaud: Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to visit China recently. My last trip to China was six years ago. I have tried to follow the land development by observing satellite imagery.

I began working in China during my first visit in 1983 and continued to return to the country until 2018. This experience has enabled me to witness China's development over a period of 35 years. The development of Chinese cities has been absolutely astonishing to me, especially in terms of infrastructure.

What impressed me the most are the large urban clusters in the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta - now the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), which has unparalleled size. The San Francisco Bay Area, including Silicon Valley and surrounding areas, is home to approximately 7 million people. The GBA now has a population of around 90 million people, equivalent to the entire population of Germany. The region is increasingly connected by rapid rail. Twenty years ago, it would take about two or three hours to travel from Hong Kong to Guangzhou by train. However, based on the data I have now, the journey only takes about 40 minutes.

In my view, there are still some progresses to be made in transport in the GBA. If this can be achieved, the GBA would be by far the most productive and innovative area in the world. What we have learned in urban development is that if you manage to have a very large labor market, the productivity of this area is much higher than the productivity of smaller cities, even though running a large city is more complex than running a small city.

I'm very encouraged to see that the local governments in China encourage innovation in different type of transport, not only speedy trains, but also self-driving cars. I think that this experimentation is absolutely necessary. In Europe and the US, cities are often hesitant to embrace change, leading to the implementation of regulations that could slow down change there. It appears that the Chinese are facing change much more eagerly and with more imagination.

GT: You once mentioned that China's unprecedentedly huge urban clusters have the potential to usher in a new era of improved productivity and creativity. Could you elaborate on the perspective? Compared to urban clusters in other parts of the world, what advantages do Chinese urban clusters have in terms of scale, economic benefits from concentration, and innovation capability?

Bertaud: I see two advantages.

First, size. I discussed before that China's GBA is larger in size compared to other clusters. If you look at productivity, innovation, size is important. 

Second, land use. Many manufacturing enterprises in the San Francisco Bay Area have relocated due to high land prices. The area now primarily consists of research labs, office buildings, and other brain work-related industries. Manufacturing has been outsourced to other parts of the US or even to other countries.

In China, industrial areas continue to remain in clusters like the Yangtze River Delta and the GBA. I believe this creates an advantage because research is important, but researchers must also be exposed to manufacturing in order to improve it. The key is not just inventing new things, but making those inventions work for the common good and commercializing them. I believe that the land use diversity in Chinese clusters is an advantage in achieving this.

GT:In 2017, you said in an interview that the most successful cities are those who embrace rapid urbanization rather than those that try to slow this process down. At that time, you mentioned China's ability to rapidly develop urban infrastructure. In your view, what enabled China to achieve fast urbanization? Is there anything in this process that other developing countries can learn?

Bertaud: I think there are cultural reasons that are difficult to replicate. When I was working in China, I noticed that China has a very clear and efficient decision-making system. This is a major advantage of China, but I am not sure if it's possible to transmit it to other countries.

In many other countries, at a local level of a city, there is a fragmentation of decision-making, which slows down decision-making. For instance, in New York, there has been an effort to implement congestion pricing to reduce traffic in the city center. However, the decision-making process is fragmented, resulting in no progress being made. 

GT: You discussed in your book the complementary relationship between infrastructure planning and market mechanisms. What changes do you think have occurred in China's urban planning since the reform and opening-up compared to before?

Bertaud: On the one hand, China has been able to develop top-down infrastructure, which must be designed in advance. On the other hand, the infrastructure has increasingly responded to market demands. I believe this is a significant strength of China. In the West, we sometimes face challenges with our top-down infrastructure due to fragmented decision-making.

Another advantage of China is that the boundaries around cities are very large. There are rural counties that are part of the municipality, which I believe is a significant advantage compared to the fragmentation we sometimes see in the West. 

GT:A few years ago, The Economist reported that China is striving to transform itself into a nation composed of 19 major regions based on large urban clusters. At that time, you stated that if integrated properly, China's urban clusters could achieve productivity levels never seen before, "comparable to the gap between the UK and the rest of the world during the Industrial Revolution." Six years later, any change to your prior prediction? 

Bertaud: I think that because of the demography now, I will slightly modify my comment 10 years ago. In my opinion, even if some of China's major city clusters succeed, that would be enough to drive the economy of China.

I think that eventually the best city will attract more people. People vote with their feet. The most creative people, more entrepreneurs will be attracted there. I think that's the way probably the Chinese clusters succeed. 

GT:In your opinion, what challenges do China's large urban clusters still face, and what can be done in the future?

Bertaud: I think they are on the right track. I will concentrate on the transport and especially the last five-kilometer of transport. From the high-speed railway station to people's final destinations, whether it is a residential area or an office, there is still room for further improvement in the level of transportation and comfort.

The second is housing. Try to increase the supply of housing by encouraging competition, rather than relying solely on large companies. Smaller developers are typically more in tune with local demand and may be more likely to identify opportunities on smaller parcels of undeveloped land. In a city, people of all income levels are essential and should have access to affordable housing.

German plan to phase out Huawei, ZTE telecom gear from its 5G networks is criticized

China hopes Germany respect facts and makes reasonable decisions, urging the European country to provide a fair market environment for enterprises from all countries, including Chinese companies, Lin Jian, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told a press conference on Thursday.

Lin made the remarks in response to reports claiming that the German government and telecom carriers in the country have agreed in principle on steps to take out components made by Chinese companies from the nation's 5G wireless network during the next five years.

According to Reuters, under the preliminary agreement driven by "security considerations," the telecom operators will initially remove the country's 5G core network equipment made by Chinese companies including Huawei and ZTE by 2026.

In a second phase, the role of Chinese makers' parts for antennas, transmission lines and towers would be eliminated by 2029.

Lin said that Chinese technology companies such as Huawei have been operating in Europe for many years, building high-quality communications infrastructure for Europe, creating a large number of jobs and tax revenues, and there is no evidence that the Chinese equipment jeopardize the national security of European countries.

"Politicizing economic, trade and sci-tech issues will only undermine normal technological exchanges and cooperation, which is not in the interest of any party," Lin said, urging Germany to independently make decisions in line with its own interests and international rules, while also providing a fair, transparent, open and non-discriminatory market environment for enterprises from all countries, including China.

Telecom operators in the country have previously resisted Berlin's efforts to drive the expensive phase-out of Huawei, Reuters reported. However, the cost of the transition is expected to be significant.

The US telecommunication sector regulator said in May that nearly 40 percent of US telecom companies need additional government funding to remove telecom equipment made by Chinese companies from America's wireless networks.

PwC reportedly to lay off half of auditors in China for structural optimization

International auditing company PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) will reportedly reduce about 50 percent of its financial services audit staff in China, in addition to discharging about 20 percent of its staff in other auditing lines and non-auditing businesses.

The lay-off followed PwC's dismissal of stories that its branch in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, was to shut down on July 10.

PwC said the lay-off was a difficult decision, noting that due to the changes in external circumstances, the auditing firm has optimized its organizational structure in response to market demand, Chinese media outlet jiemian.com reported.

PwC said that the company has always valued talent and have invested heavily in talent development over recent years, adding that they are engaging in thorough communication with the employees and ensuring that the labor adjustment plan complies with relevant Chinese labor laws.

The report cited an employee of PwC, confirming the lay-off news and saying that they were discharged in the first week of July. Another employee said that new recruits this year were not affected.

PwC China office now has over 800 partners, and more than 20,000 workers in total, who are scattered in 29 Chinese cities, including Hong Kong, Macao and Xiong'an in North China's Hebei Province, PwC's website said.

Multiple listed companies in China have announced they are switching away from the PwC partly due to China's finance regulator is considering a significant penalty for the firm over its role in auditing the embattled property developer China Evergrande Group, which filed for bankruptcy last year and was ordered to be liquidated earlier this year.

In earlier July, the official website of PwC showed that it has appointed Li Dan, also known as Daniel Li, as the new chairman to head PwC Asia Pacific and China area.

Li has served in navigating the complexities of IPOs, M&As, inbound and outbound transaction for a diverse range of MNCs, POEs and SOEs, the company's website said. "Li will lead PwC China in its mission of 'solving important problems and building social integrity,'" the company said earlier.

China-Pakistan green cooperation gains pace, a viable model of sustainable development: expert

Pakistan and China are deepening cooperation in emerging green sectors through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Mustafa Hyder Sayed, executive director of the Pakistan-China Institute told the Global Times in a recent exclusive interview. 

Sayed viewed the green CPEC project as a global model of people-centered, win-win cooperation that significantly advances new energy transition and sustainable economic development.

The comments came ahead of the 8th China-South Asia Expo, which is scheduled to take place in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, on July 23-28. During the Expo, green energy will stand out as a crucial sector where the two regions aim to enhance extensive and diversified business cooperation, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

Sayed highlighted accelerating Chinese industry relocation and technology transfer to Pakistan to enhance bilateral cooperation across green sectors. "This process will fuel local economic development and energy transition while allowing Chinese firms to benefit from Pakistan's lower production costs, facilitating China's green engagements with Central Asia and the Middle East," he said.

CPEC, a flagship project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is now upgrading into a green economic corridor. Sayed noted that the initiative has significantly benefited Pakistan by addressing its energy crunch, improving intra-country and cross-regional connectivity, developing local infrastructure, and revitalizing ports for enhanced commerce.

Pakistan is committed to developing renewable energy projects and investing in eco-friendly initiatives within the green CPEC by absorbing and utilizing Chinese advanced expertise and technologies, Sayed said, acknowledging the necessity of securing financial support from China. 

"Drawing investments from Panda Bonds, which are yuan-denominated debts issued by foreign entities in China, along with green bonds issued by Chinese banks, will contribute to funding green projects and fostering sustainable development in Pakistan," Sayed said.

Since its establishment in 2013, CPEC had cumulatively created 236,000 jobs for Pakistan and contributed to the addition of 510 kilometers of highways, 8,000 megawatts of electricity generation capacity, and 886 kilometers of expressway network across the country, according to official data. 

Various energy projects under CPEC, such as wind energy and hydroelectric projects in northern Pakistan, are the country's notable efforts toward diversifying the energy matrix. Chinese investments can help Pakistan reduce dependence on imported fuels while supporting its vision of reaching 30 percent of green energy capacity in the power mix by 2030, according to Sayed.

In June, the first unit of the China-built Suki Kinari Hydropower project in northwest Pakistan entered its wet testing phase, marking a major step towards official operation and power generation, furthering the progress of renewable energy cooperation under the CPEC, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Looking forward, Sayed said that more joint ventures are expected, focusing on localizing solar panel cells manufacturing in Pakistan. 

"Our way is to facilitate low-carbon investment from China into Pakistan, establish clear green investment criteria for Chinese investors, as well as ensure projects' financial viability, security, and profitability," he said, adding that Pakistan is eager to cooperate with and learn from China. 

Pakistan-China cooperation exemplifies people-centric cooperation between countries, Sayed said. "China has been prioritizing ecological and environmental protection as integral to human development, focusing more on improving people's living standards, which Pakistan views as a model for its modernization," he added.

In late May, China and Pakistan announced five new corridors for the second phase of CPEC construction, including the Innovation and Green Corridors, according to Pakistan media reports. Pakistani officials have vowed to attract more Chinese investment for joint ventures in renewable energy and modern agriculture projects.

Unlike Western models, China's economic growth is based on shared prosperity, extending mutual benefits to its partners, he said, highlighting this model's crucial role in reshaping the global landscape, while some Western countries' new Cold War mentality is overshadowing world peace and the rise of the Global South.

He criticized these countries' ongoing smear campaign against China as part of their containment strategy to hinder China's rise. They are also trying to create controversy around the BRI cooperation by labeling China's investments as placing debt traps. However, these attempts will fail, Sayed said.

The Global South is looking to China for leadership, as the future of the world economy is shifting toward the East, while the Western powers will seek confrontation to uphold their hegemony, he noted, urging the West to engage constructively with China in all potential areas, avoiding over-politicizing economic and trade issues.

Sayed is optimistic about China's growth prospects, noting despite external challenges, the Chinese economy remains resilient amid efforts for high-quality development. China's new development pattern of "dual circulation" will transform its economy into one driven by both domestic and international demand, promising a sustainable path of development, he said. 

Guangzhou subways display posters celebrating giant panda Mengmeng's newborn baby

The display in Guangzhou's metro system, featuring giant panda Mengmeng with the caption "I am now a mother" to celebrate the birth of her female cub on June 18, caught the attention of many Chinese netizens recently.

According to a video clip shared by netizens, some of the posters were decorated with a phrase "People passing by -- just to congratulate her!" Others featured a cartoon image of the baby panda, as well as photos of Mengmeng and the other giant panda Jiahe, with the words "We have a daughter now" displayed beside them.

Mengmeng is the eldest of the world's only living panda triplets, and had a cub after a 128-day pregnancy at the Guangzhou Chimelong Safari Park in the capital city of Guangdong Province, according to the park. 

Following the birth, the conservation team conducted daily physical examinations on the cub, meticulously documenting its growth data. The cub's white fur has grown on its pink skin, with black markings beginning to appear around its eyes, ears, shoulders, and limbs, as reported by the media.

As the sole female is among the world's only panda triplets, Mengmeng has always been in the spotlight and was previously selected for a national giant panda breeding program.

Brown bear whose head is stuck in a plastic bucket rescued in Qinghai Province

A recent video of a brown bear in Northwest China's Qinghai Province with its head stuck in a plastic bucket after trying to steal food from local herders attracted lots of attention, as both the bear and its rescuers quickly ran in opposite directions following a "tug-of-war" rescue.

According to media reports on Monday, local police and residents teamed up to rescue the brown bear by pulling the plastic bucket off its head with a rope. 

The local police chief said the rescue activity at the scene was done in a cautious way to ensure the safety of both people and the embattled bear.

The adult brown bear, which weighed more than 150 kilograms, appeared helpless at the time, crouching on the ground and occasionally trying to move the bucket out of the way with its paws, according to local media reports. Rescuers made several attempts and the process lasted more than 30 minutes.

The rescuers then stood three meters away from the bear and threw a rope over the bucket. Once the rope was securely in place, the police and herders began to pull and engage in a "tug-of-war" with the bear until they successfully removed the bucket.

Many netizens commented that it was clear from the video that both the bear and its rescuers were scared and nervous at the moment of rescue, worried that something unexpected might happen. 

According to an introduction from China's National Forestry and Grassland Administration, brown bears are listed under the second class of wildlife protection in China, which still have a high degree of aggressiveness.

IMF urges US to maintain open trade system; experts say comment is criticism of its crackdowns on Chinese products

The US would be better served by maintaining its open trade system, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Thursday, in response to media inquiries on the US' latest move to aggressively hike tariffs on Chinese goods, warning such trade restrictions can fragment the global economy and supply chains and trigger retaliatory actions.

These restrictions can lead to distortion of global trade and investment, and fragmentation caused by such moves can be "very costly for the global economy," IMF spokesperson Julie Kozack said during a regular press briefing on Thursday.

Experts saw these comments as an official criticism and rebuttal of the US escalating crackdowns on numerous Chinese products and industries that hold global competitive advantages, calling the US moves "hostile economic bullying" motivated by political excuses.

The IMF's remarks came after the US government launched new tariffs on Tuesday, targeting a range of Chinese imports, including electric vehicles (EVs), lithium batteries, photovoltaic cells, critical minerals, semiconductors, steel, and aluminum. These tariffs were imposed on top of existing tariffs under Section 301, which a WTO panel ruled in September 2020 violated WTO rules.

Further intensifying its crackdown measures, the US announced on Thursday its plan to block imports from 26 Chinese textile companies due to their alleged ties to the so-called "forced labor." This move adds to existing bans under a relevant entity list.

The US' unilateralism and trade protectionism, driven by its short-term political interests, will have highly detrimental impacts on global trade, Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday.

Gao cautioned that these actions will reduce efficiency in global supply chains and increase risks, ultimately undermining the health of not only the US economy but also the entire global trade and economy.

In a similar vein, the US on Wednesday passed the Biosecure Act that would prohibit US federal agencies from contracting Chinese biotech companies under the excuse of "national security," following a slew of groundless sanctions against multiple Chinese advanced industries.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi rebuked the US for frequently imposing unilateral sanctions, calling it "a most typical case of hegemonism and bullying," revealing that it has lost confidence and direction.

Wang urged the US to earnestly observe WTO rules and immediately cancel the sanctions, and vowed to take all necessary measures to defend China's rights and interests.

The recent intensive crackdown measures suggest that the US has become irrational in its handling of economic and trade relations with China, Li Yong, a senior research fellow at the China Association of International Trade, told the Global Times on Friday, noting the moves are part of the Biden administration's political maneuvering in an election year.

In response to the latest bans on Chinese textile companies, Li said that "China has been actively boosting economic development in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and has achieved fruitful outcomes in recent years. The US actions will not have a lasting substantive impact on the relevant enterprises due to China's vast consumer market, which can offer robust support and drive for the industry's development."

During the IMF's press briefing, Kozack expressed the hope that China and the US would make joint efforts to address the underlying concerns that have exacerbated trade tensions between the two countries.

The IMF spokesperson also emphasized the noticeable increase in trade restrictions worldwide in recent years. In 2019, there were 1,000 trade restrictions documented, which increased to 3,000 in 2023, resulting in escalating costs for the global economy, according to IMF.

Earlier this month, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian urged the US to act on its commitment of not seeking to hold back China's economic growth and create an enabling environment for China-US relations and cooperation in various fields, in response to IMF Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath's call on May 7 for pragmatic steps toward rebuilding trust between China and the US.

US order for Chinese-linked company to sell property 'discrimination'

A decision by the US government to force a company that is reportedly Chinese-linked to sell a property near a US Air Force base in the state of Wyoming is one more dramatic act in the "China threat" play, a Chinese observer said on Tuesday.

The White House on Monday (US time) issued an order prohibiting the purchase and requiring the divestment of real estate operated as a cryptocurrency mining facility in close proximity to a US Air Force base in Wyoming, which is a strategic missile base that's home to the US Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The owner of the facility, MineOne Partners, has been reported to be majority-owned by entities in China.

The order by US President Joe Biden was reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a panel led by the Treasury Department.

The CFIUS cited the presence of specialized and foreign-sourced equipment potentially capable of facilitating surveillance and espionage activities as a reason for its decision, without providing further evidence.

The move came amid increasingly intense anti-China sentiment in the US and the spinning of a "land grabbing" narrative, and Chinese analysts noted that the event may be nothing more than a new episode of the "China threat" during a US election year.

Zhou Mi, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the event may prove the US government is overly concerned with the issue of national security.

"Military bases all had security precautions in place and the sudden revoking of the property deal may prove unnecessary," Zhou said, noting that limiting the prohibition to specific groups is a politicized operation and blatant discrimination and serves only to dent the confidence of global investors in the US.

Investors would prefer transparency and predictability, instead of being told that they have to divest their investment in a retroactive fashion, Zhou said.

The incident came amid media hype in the US over the "China threat."

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo last week warned that the US may take "extreme action" and seek to ban Chinese connected vehicles on national security grounds.

The US has also launched a probe into the Chinese maritime, logistics and shipbuilding industries.

Some Chinese economists and international relations experts said that although it is unsurprising to see some US politicians play the anti-China card as much as they can in an election year, the claim that China is grabbing US land is fairly absurd, as China legally holds less than 1 percent of all the foreign-owned land in the US.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry last week urged the US not to overstretch the concept of national security, or weaken or sever one's economic ties with other countries, which will lead nowhere.

It will only destabilize global industrial and supply chains, disrupt the international trade order and end up harming one's own interests, the Ministry said.