Wuqing district of the coastal metropolis of Tianjin, which is about 110 kilometers from Beijing, is reportedly planning to begin construction in September on a light rail line linking Tianjin with Langfang, Hebei province, and Beijing.
The line is among steps being taken to bring the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region - also known as Jing-Jin-Ji (Jing for Beijing, Jin for Tianjin and Ji, the traditional name for Hebei province) - closer together.
Jing-Jin-Ji is one of 19 super-regions by which the central government plans to transform the country.
While Beijing is a political, educational, cultural and research and development center, Tianjin, with one of the busiest ports in the world, is considered to be northern China's logistics center, while Hebei is known for its heavy industry, including steel production.
More than 800 roads and expressways have been upgraded in the Jing-Jin-Ji region, which has a population of 100 million. In addition, several new rail projects for passenger and freight trains have been completed, such as the extension of the railway between Beijing and Tianjin; the one linking Tianjin and Baoding, Hebei; and the line between the Hebei cities of Zhangjiakou and Tangshan, according to Xinhua News Agency.
In its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), China has attached great importance to the concept of city clusters as a new kind of urban development. At the center of each city cluster will be a megacity, which will mobilize and galvanize the development of smaller neighboring cities, as well as facilitate regional economic development.
Chongqing and Chengdu, for example, are the economic engines of city clusters in China's central and western regions. And Nanjing, a major city in eastern China, and Xiamen, the key city in the southeastern coastal area, have achieved relatively balanced development in terms of livability and sustainability.
Enhancing inclusiveness and sustainability in development of urban clusters that involve large cities is seen as a significant undertaking. It is at the core of resolving "the principal contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life", as set forth at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2017.
To this end, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces, as well as Shanghai, approved a three-year action plan in June last year that mapped out the blueprint for integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta region. The plan aims to build the region into world-class city clusters by 2020.
In his Government Work Report delivered on March 5 in Beijing at the annual plenary session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, Premier Li Keqiang said the integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta has been elevated to the status of a national strategy. He added that the central government will "compile and implement an outline development plan".
On Feb 21, the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, issued a document encouraging the growth of modern city clusters. The document deals especially with human capital, which is considered to be a driving force behind urban development.
The commission aims to make it easier for more people to move to cities other than Beijing and Shanghai, which, together with Guangzhou and Shenzhen, are known as first-tier cities in terms of size and per capita gross domestic product.
Surveys have shown that in recent years, an increasing number of people have left the first-tier cities for second-tier cities.
Second-tier cities such as Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, and Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, have seen a large influx of new talent. Last year, for instance, the number of new talent arriving in Xi'an was 386,000, according to the city's human resources and social security bureau.
In addition, second-tier cities aim to improve accessibility by building a "one-hour commuting circle", ensuring that people in their clusters can reach their workplace in an hour at most by public transportation.
The evolution of China's cities reflects efforts by national, regional and local entities to improve the country's competitiveness, according to a report by US global management consulting company A.T. Kearney. Their initiatives have focused on business, governmental and cultural activities, providing improvements that boost the quality of life for residents, increase the ease of doing business and attract more investment and attention from global companies, the report said.
Qin Chenglin, a professor of economics at Jinan University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, said: "The implementation of such ambitious plans may be difficult, since clusters involve several layers of governments. The other concern regards transportation. ... At this stage, the current state of the transportation system is not yet suitable and needs to be upgraded."
Ling Yun, the mayor of Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, said, "Some of the five city-cluster regions in the Yangtze River Delta area overlap" because they have similar industries.
Ling, who is a deputy to the 13th National People's Congress, China's top legislature, which held its annual plenary meeting last month in Beijing, recommended that a big city-cluster region combining Hefei and Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, be formed to improve the connectivity of the major cities in the two provinces and thereby aid integrated development.