In recent years China has been constantly in the news for its rise in infrastructural development along with its chivalry and willingness to give out loans to countries in need. Although both of these matters might look unrelated at first glance, both of them share a common thread that is often missed. Both these ventures by the government of the Republic of China have mixed feelings equally from the government and the general public.
In this academic, we will closely examine one such infrastructural venture that the Chinese government had undertaken in recent times, but the results of the project are far from what was promised to the stakeholders and to the general public.
Commonly referred to as the Manhattan of China, the Tianjin infrastructure is a project that has failed to meet the public’s expectations more than once and also set the government highly into debt. The model of the new town which has been heavily inspired from New York’s Manhattan was supposed to be the government’s answer to the bustling rise of American Capitalism but quickly proved to be a warning sign to struggling governments all around the world.
Tianjin before being converted into an ambitious infrastructure project was a quiet city, municipality and coastal metropolis just beside the Bohai Sea. The town which is now a part of China’s 9 proudest districts is a metropolis with a population of almost 31 million people. The area is governed by the PRC and thus receives a significant amount of government funds every year. Before the coastal district was planned for a resurrection, the city was mainly known for its seafood exports and local handicrafts among others.
In 2006, the PRC decided that Tianjin deserved a facelift and it will choose this coastal district for its ambitious infrastructural practices. Government funds were quickly dispersed and the model for a new Tianjin was created, heavily inspired from New York’s Manhattan. (Caprotti et al. 2015) The city would have everything from a metro rail, to sprawling shopping malls, tall skyscrapers and more. In the first couple of years, work went on smoothly and the city quickly became the centre of attraction for the whole country. Enquiries from employers and businesses started pouring in and PRC was happy of such quick success. But post-2010, just 4 years from the inception of the project, things started to slow down and the PRC started slowly withdrawing its funds.
Multiple reports including those from state news agencies such as the South China Post reported that things were not looking good for Tianjin, or Yujiapu Financial District which the new name was chosen for this district. But not before 2017, did this massive failure of the Chinese government get attention from international media. What started as a light-hearted piece from the New York Times, quickly became a news frenzy and most international news agencies were flocking to China to report on the government’s massive failure.
In a recent article pioneered by New York Times, it was revealed that almost everything has come to a standstill in Tianjin. There are bare skeletons in the sky as a result of unfinished construction, empty malls and railway stations, pet stores with no pets and residents who are not hopeful of a bright future.
One of the many international businesses that were supposed to open a new campus in Tianjin was The Juilliard School based in New York City. Aptly named The Tianjin Juilliard School, its doors are set to open in the fall of 2020, but as of date there is no evidence of interest from students. Almost 4/5th of all the office spaces in Tianjin are lying vacant and as of recent reports, no international or national businesses are showing interest in opening their operations in Tianjin. The situation is so bad in Tianjin that the government has recently decided to waive off the rent on commercial properties for the first year. From this data, it is quite clear that the Yujiapu Financial District meets none of the expectations that the PRC, as well as China’s citizens, aspired of it.
Now that the situation in Tianjin has almost died now and both the government and the local public isn’t showing much interest in what the future holds, we can take a closer look at the bigger picture that was supposed to be achieved and what went wrong in between that led to such a shortcoming.
One of the main reasons that are evident from the very beginning is rapid urbanization. One of China’s main strategies for a boost in economic growth is the policy of rapid urbanization which can be translated to “build and the people will come.” (Chang et al. 2016) While this policy of undertaking major projects did work for some, like the ones in Shenzhen, Tianjin is a clear example that not all infrastructure projects are made the same and thus a careful analysis, as well as a forecast of the future, should be prepared beforehand.
Along with this, there are several other reasons as to why such a huge and multibillion-dollar project failed even after scrutinization by the PRC. Some of the most significant of these reasons are as mentioned below:
Lack of Planning: As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, Tianjin was a quiet coastal metropolis right beside the Bohai river. The Bohai river which is a part of the South China Sea has traditionally been a route for ships and sailors who are engaged in the business of seafood import and export. In 2006, when the PRC set its eyes on the development of Tianjin, one crucial factor that was omitted was that only building large skyscrapers and including facilities found in Manhattan won’t transform Tianjin into the new economic capital of Asia.
Now that the dust has almost settled on the Tianjin project, the after-effects of such a large-scale failure is coming to light. Some of the most significant downfalls are as mentioned below.
The present state of Tianjin and that of the People’s Republic of China as a whole is not one that is showing signs of recovery anytime soon. China’s debt is increasing and such failed multi-billion-dollar projects along with others is a sign that the country needs to consider other options when it comes to recovering economic growth.
All that can be said is that the government needs to implement proper and more effective strategies in place if its hopes for the state to recover and further be wary of projects like this that might not bear fruit in the near future.(Guo Yuming et al. 2011).
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