Here in Blighty, the idea of a London of 10 million people still leaves government officials rocking back and forth in terror. So how would they react, one wonders, to the idea of a city of 130 million.
No, that's not a typo. From the South China Morning Post:
Every administration since Deng Xiaoping's has taken on an ambitious economic project that defines its legacy. For President Xi Jinping, that project is to link 130 million people across Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province into a single megalopolis, the so-called Jing-Jin-Ji region.
"The thinking behind the policy is probably to turn a vast region with a lot of potential for economic development into a third pole of growth" rivalling [the Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta regions]," said Hongyi Lai, an associate professor of political economy at the University of Nottingham's School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.
Just to be clear, 130 million is a lot of people. The proposed megacity would be the tenth most populous country in the world, just ahead of Japan. It’s nearly four times the population of Tokyo, currently the world’s largest metropolitan area. You could fit everyone from Britain and France in there, and still find room for the Estonians. It’s big.
Slightly disappointingly, the plan seems to be more about economic integration, rather than one solid urban block stretching for 400km. Beijing is the Chinese capital - but it’s both poorer and less open to the world than the two delta regions. This development plan is meant to correct all that.
And doing so will involve a lot of investment in urban infrastructure all the same. Stage one will be the creation of a “Beijing seventh ring road” (which will be, confusingly, the sixth ring road around the city), some 2,190km long. Extension of Beijing’s subway and light rail networks to neighbouring cities is on the cards, too. In all, the project is expected to cost a nifty 42 trillion yuan (£3.9trn).
This isn’t the only major bit of urban integration underway in China. In 2011, the Daily Telegraph reported that China was planning to merge the nine major cities of the Pearl River Delta, next to Hong Kong, into a single metropolitan area. The “Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One” was expected to include 150 separate infrastructure projects to connect the cities’ transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion). The result would be a single metropolitan area containing 42 million people in an area twice the size of Wales.
The report was swiftly denied – but that hasn’t stopped the Shenzhen subway network from moving ahead with plans to extend to neighbouring cities such as Dongguan and Huizhou some 90 miles away. It can only be a matter of time before a city somewhere in China finally takes Tokyo’s crown.