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    China’s ‘digital city’ showcases Xi’s grand ambition

    Xi Jinping’s inclusion of “thought of socialism” to the Communist party’s constitution is viewed as a competition to the urban developments of Deng Xiaoping, the president who set forth market reforms to China.

    The newly designated Xiongan New Area, including three counties in Hebei province is the ground for Mr Xi’s industrious proposal. Upon completion of the project, it is stipulated to take up an area of 1,700 sq km, exceeding twice the area of New York City; and will bring about $379 billion in investment over the next 20 years.

    Xiongan New Area is designed to demonstrate Mr Xi’s vision of state-led “digital city that is governed by intelligent modern technology. It will be the laboratory for Chinese industrial policy and testament that the government can foster technological innovation through a top-down approach. However, the new project failed to go as planned as the area remains largely undeveloped with the prominent exception of the development’s advanced administrative centre.

    In the heart of the project, Xiongan Public Service Centre will soon feature 20,000 sensors for facial and sound recognition, cashier-free convenience store and “future hotel” that utilises technology for payment and check-in. Trees are also planted within the vicinity where fuel-guzzling cars are prohibited. However, the technology only benefits few in a rural county. At the moment, the showpiece development remains largely unpopulated. Critics have attributed the flop to over reliance on state planning which illustrates a lack of confidence in market-based solutions to challenges such as urban overcrowding or promotion of innovation.

    Xiongan New Area is also the focus of an extensive regional development plan created to integrate Hebei province, an economic laggard, with the neighbouring large cities of Beijing and Tianjin. The new city will allow factories and secondary domestic agencies to shift away from Beijing, with the aim of reducing the capital’s severe congestion.

    For villagers, the development has resulted in disruption and uncertainties. The local government has ceased property transactions to avoid real estate speculation. Authorities have also stopped approximately 4,000 factories that were below average due to pollution, resulting in a surge in unemployment.

    Source: Financial Times

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