China’s government has been full of surprises lately, from announcing a 10 percent-plus rise in the military budget as it projects its power outward across Asia to an easing of the one-child policy. But perhaps none is as eye-popping as the plan to integrate Beijing with Tianjin, a coastal city 80 miles away, and the broader Hebei province, in which both cities are located, into one huge metropolitan area holding 10 percent of the nation’s 1 billion people.
Plans for the region, to be called Jing-Jin-Ji, were launched in late February when President Xi Jinping called for a regional economic hub comprising the three regions, whose populations already mix considerably as residents of Hebei commute into the capital for work, according to published reports. In addition to spurring economic development, officials hope the integration will help alleviate Beijing’s smog, traffic and long commutes.
“These projects of metropolitan inter-connectivity aim to achieve economies of scale and reduce some of the congestion in the big urban hubs by spreading them out even more,” Michal Meidan, a China expert, told the International Business Times.
But investors appear to have managed to get ahead of even Beijing’s policy. Starting in late March, the city of Langfang, which is under Hebei’s jurisdiction and located halfway between Beijing and Tianjin, began to see more property buyers from Beijing, according to Jin Rong Jie, a Chinese financial news outlet.
“People from Beijing are coming, so prices must be going up soon,” a local real estate agent said.
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And prices are going up. In the whole of 2013, average housing prices in Langfang rose from 6,699 yuan (about $1,080) per square meter to 7,277 yuan, only a 578-yuan increase. But the new blocks that are going up for sale in May will begin at 8,500 yuan per square meter, about a 1,200-yuan increase, according to data from Soufun, a website that aggregates housing information in China.
Prices in the city of Baoding, which borders Beijing to the northeast, rose almost daily in the last two weeks, some going from around 5,000 yuan per square meter to 7,000 yuan in just days, according to the 163, a Chinese news site.
But if the real estate sector is enjoying the bump in sales from this integration, experts are a little more skeptical on the real benefits of the move, as there already was much interaction among the three regions.
“A rejiggering to make it ‘official’ makes as much sense as actually calling the area between Boston and Washington, D.C., ‘Bosington,’” Ray Kwong, a senior adviser to the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, in an email to International Business Times. “I don’t see how reclassifying boundaries could possibly help relieve traffic congestion or air pollution.”