Support 100 years of independent journalism.

3 July 2014updated 28 Jun 2021 4:44am

The Chinese government is creating a city with twice the population of France

Like 15 Londons put together. 

By Jonn Elledge

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.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We’ll be launching its website soon – in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.