China’s rulers are planning a megacity that would be home to 130 million people and cover an area the size of New England.
Sitting on the northeast coast of China, Jing-Jin-Ji — which stands for “Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei” — is a central plank of the country’s economic development plan over the next century.
The sheer numbers are startling. In November, the government approved $36 billion to build 700 miles of rail within three years.
Residents of bedroom communities just outside Beijing’s city limits, who now spend five to six hours a day on their commutes, are expected to be the main beneficiaries of a new transportation system serving the megalopolis.
In the longer term, 24 intercity railways are planned for completion by 2050 — eight alone by 2020. The goal is a “one-hour commuting circle” across the area, according to the government.
“The biggest change is in transportation,” Zhang Zhongmin, a humanities professor and environmental campaigner based in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei, told NBC News. “It used to take almost one day to travel from Hebei to Beijing, but now it’s only a few hours.”
With 13,670 miles, China already boasts of the world’s longest network of high-speed rail lines, which serve trains traveling 120 mph to 220 mph. The next two countries are Spain, with 1,930 miles, and Japan, with 1,887 miles. And China plans to build 10,000 more miles.
With its new shipping and transport network and gleaming office towers and apartments under construction, the Tianjin Free Trade Zone already hints at the colossal resources Beijing is committing to the next phase of China’s economic rise. President Xi Jinping is seeking for China to become the world’s largest economy.
The government is expected to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on transportation and infrastructure projects that would connect about 130 million people living in Beijing, the bustling port city of Tianjin and 11 other cities in Hebei province.
A crucial part of the strategy is the revitalization of Tianjin as a base for advanced manufacturing and international shipping. Beijing would remain as the nation’s capital and its political and cultural center, while Hebei province would shift to clean manufacturing and wholesale trading.