ZHOU Guanqi

Following the successful development of the Yangzi (Chang) and Pearl River deltas, the Bohai Economic Region, located in the northeast of China, is expected by economists to be another growing center for the Chinese economy. The Bohai area includes the cities of Beijing and Tianjin, the provinces of Liaoning, Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong, and part of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

With the development of the Yangzi (Chang) and Pearl River deltas and several special economic zones (SEZs), such as Shenzhen and Zhuhai, the south of China has been consolidating in terms of economic prosperity. The north, as a more politically and culturally powerful area of China, with Beijing at its center, also needs to be supported economically and for sustainability. To address that concern, in October 1992 the Fourteenth People’s Congress proposed the idea of the Bohai Economic Region, and declared that region would be a priority for China’s national development plan. After years of development questions arise as to whether the Bohai Economic Region functions as well as (or better than) other economic development regions in China.

Brief Description

Bohai (Bo Sea) is a C-shaped arm of the Yellow Sea, off China’s northeast coast; the Bohai Economic Region is composed of the surrounding Liaodong Peninsula, Shandong Peninsula, and Huabei Campagna, which cover 77,000 square kilometers. It is the optimal channel through which products from the inland and northeast of China reach the Pacific and then the world. Products of the area, such as grains, poultry, and oil from Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, coal and fur from the northwest, textiles and aquatic products from the Bohai area, and even goods from Qinghai and Xinjiang, which are thousands of kilometers away, are transported through this area to the world.

Geographically speaking the Bohai Economic Region covers Bohai, the Yellow Sea, and related coastal areas located in the west Pacific, which is called the “Golden Coast” of China. The Bohai Economic Region is of vital importance in China’s economic opening to the world, especially for the north and northeast of China.

The Bohai area in general includes the directly administered (by the central government) cities of Beijing and Tianjin, the provinces of Liaoning, Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, and part of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. Bohai is 1.12 million square kilometers in size, which is 12 percent of China’s total area, and contains 260 million people, which is 20 percent of the national total. The Bohai area has 157 cities, accounting for one-fourth of the cities in China. Bohai has thirteen cities with more than 1 million people. The economic volume of the Bohai Economic Circle (The Bohai Economic Region plus peripheral areas) is 45.3 percent that of the Yangzi River Delta Economic Circle (The Yangzi River delta plus peripheral areas) and is 10 percent that of the Pearl River Delta Economic Circle (The Pearl River delta plus peripheral areas). However, the area has great potential for further development.


As an economic region in the north of China, the Bohai Economic Region had a number of advantages over others in China. The region is unique in its location, sitting in the center of the Northeast Asia Economic Circle. The region connects the Yangzi River delta, Pearl River delta, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Southeast Asian countries in the south. It connects Korea and Japan in the east and Mongolia and Russia in the north. As the center of an economic network, the Bohai Economic Region has already attracted investment from China and abroad, which further facilitates economic cooperation with different partners.

As a booming area, the Bohai Economic Region is not only an energy consumer but also an energy provider, which makes development of the region less dependent on the outside. The region has rich marine, mine, gas, petroleum, coal, and tourism resources and is an important agriculture base: It has 2,656 hectares of farmland, accounting for 25 percent of the national total and producing 23 percent of China’s grain.

In addition to resources, the Bohai Economic Region is rich in industry, science, and technology. It is the biggest base for both heavy industry and the chemical industry in China, with advantages in resources and market access. At the same time the region has great science and technology power. Beijing and Tianjin research institutes and universities employ one-fourth of the national total in science and technology faculty, an advantage that, when combined with rich resources, creates tremendous economic power.

Transportation is important for development and is another advantage of the Bohai region. The region has more than forty seaports, making it the most intensive seaport area in China. Its railway, road, air transportation, and communication networks also are well developed. Because of these advantages, the Bohai Economic Region is a vital distribution center sitting between the northeast, northwest, and central China and international markets.

Powerful cities working together will create an even more powerful Bohai Economic Region. Two directly administered cities, Beijing and Tianjin, are at the center; coastal cities, such as Dalian, Qingdao, Yantai, and Qinghuangdao, and capital cities farther away, such as Shenyang, Taiyuan, Shijiazhuang, and Hohhot, are at the periphery. This distribution of cities makes the Bohai Economic Region the most significant community in China in terms of politics, economy, cultural exchange, and international communication. With international economic power gradually moving to the Asia-Pacific area, Bohai is going to play an even more prominent role.

What Has Been Achieved

In terms of national economic development, the comprehensive capability of the region has been improved, the economic opening has been further enhanced, and its tertiary (or service) industry has been improved. Following the success of the Yangzi River delta and the Pearl River delta, the Bohai Economic Region has been predicted by economists to become a major development engine in the north and the third “pole of economic development” in China.

The Bohai Economic Region is the center of the railway network in China, with many national main railroads, such as the Daqin Line for coal transport and the Jinghu Line, Jingguang Line, and Jingjiu Line for both passengers and goods. The region has 21,543 kilometers of railway, accounting for 30 percent of the national total, with a railway network density of 16.14 kilometers per 1,000 square kilometers. Also, because the region is a strategic area for coal transport, investment in railway construction has always been a focus in the region, and the network of both passenger and goods transportation is becoming more efficient.

The Bohai Economic Region also has the highest density of foreign businesses in the north of China. More than 40 percent of the research and development centers set up by multinational enterprises in China from more than eighty countries, such as Motorola, Hewlett Packard, Panasonic, Microsoft, and Fujitsu, are located in Beijing, and more than ten thousand foreign corporations have invested in Tianjin. Of the top five hundred global enterprises, more than two hundred are setting up production centers in the region. Those in Dalian have been particularly impressive.

After a decade’s development the Bohai Economic Region has been largely influenced by management, technologies, and marketing skills from foreign enterprises, whi
ch further promote marketing mechanisms, motivate the reform of existing industries, and produce economic and social benefits in the region.

Other Regions

The economic potentials of the Bohai Economic Region and the Yangzi River delta and Pearl River delta have already been contrasted. However, differences exist in other aspects as well.

As far as the operational environment in the Bohai Economic Region is concerned, the region still has strong and influential administrative power, but compared with Yangzi River delta and Pearl River delta methods of resource allocation, the BER’s are comparatively weak. Such a situation is not advantageous for a region striving to be built up and improved.

As far as the business enterprise structure in the Bohai Economic Region is concerned, some enterprises have outstanding economic performance and high status. But most such enterprises are large state-owned businesses (the percentage of which in the Bohai Economic Region is higher than that in the Yangzi River delta and Pearl River delta and higher than the national average). A relatively low ratio of small- and medium-sized enterprises might not provide a stimulating environment for enterprises without adequate competition, motivation, and dynamics.

Localism in the Bohai Economic Region still prevails and is strong enough to lower the efficiency of regional development. Because of overlapping administrative managements, the coordination costs of some places in the region is still high, and the flow of capital, human resources, technology, and other producing elements is not as smooth as it should be because of the low level of market development.

Looking Ahead

Regional cooperation and development are never easy tasks; they require more than good plans, effort, and resources. Despite what has been achieved in the Bohai Economic Region, much remains to be done.

Theoretically speaking, an economic region needs two elements: principal areas, which act as leaders in economic development, and hinterlands, which provide backup for development and tie the region together. In the Yangzi River delta Shanghai undoubtedly is the principal area, whereas Suzhou, Zhejiang, Anhui, and some other areas play the hinterland role; in the Pearl River delta the principal areas are Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Canton), and Shenzhen, which are geographically adjacent, whereas the hinterland is the whole area excluding Guangdong Province. What about the Bohai Economic Region? Judging from economic volume, Beijing and Tianjin are the principal areas, but there is no hinterland; the Bohai Economic Region is a conglomeration of individually powerful places rather than an influential and cooperating region.

Planners understand this problem and want to integrate every part of the Bohai Economic Region into a truly unified region, but have had relatively little success. Localism has made it difficult enough to coordinate activities even within a province, not to mention within the region (Shandong Peninsula Production Base was under consideration for regional economic development because of its labor and geographic advantage, but ultimately nothing has been worked out).

Yet another problem of the Bohai Economic Region is environmental pollution, which is the product of the policy of “develop first and preserve later.” People look up to a sky that is gray, not blue. In addition, in an area with marine resources at its center, Chinese oceanographers have warned that the Bohai is going to be polluted within ten years if no effective measures are taken.

The Bohai Economic Region is moving ahead, developing plans and assessing resources. It has achieved goals that other economic regions have not, and has failed at goals that other economic regions have achieved. But with determination and energy, the region may yet become the third pole of economic development in China.

Further Reading

Bohai Sea coast emerging as economic engine of China. (2 July, 2003). People’s Daily Online. Retrieved February 4, 2009 from http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200307/02/eng20030702_119275.shtml

Li, L. (2004). Bo Hai Ming Zhu: Tianjin Jing Ji Yu Ke Ji Fa Zhan Qu [A pearl in Bohai: Tianjing Economy and Technology Development Zone]. Tianjin, China: Zhong Guo Hai Yang Chu Ban She [Ocean Publishing].

Lu, X., Yang, Y., & Zhen, W. (1997). Bo Hai Jing Ji Quan Yu Chang San Jiao Fa Zhan [Bohai economic circle and the development in the Yangtze River delta]. Beijing: Zhong Guo Jin Rong Jing Ji Chu Ban She [China Finance and Economy Publishing].

Ma, Y., & Huang, W. (2006). Tianjing: The pearl in Bohai Bay. Beijing: Foreign Language Publishing.

Pan, W., Yao, Y., & Ning, X. (2006). Bo Hai Jing Ji Qu Fa Zhan Bao Gao (2006) [Development report in Bohai Economic Region (2006)]. Beijing: Qi Ye Guan Li Chu Ban She.

Sun, Y. (2006). Zi Yuan Mi Ji Cheng Shi De Guo Du He Fa Zhan Zhan Lue [Transition and development strategies for resource-intensive cities]. Beijing: Zhong Guo Jing Ji Chu Ban She.

Wang, Z., & Jiang, T. (2002). Bo Hai Di Qu De Huan Jing [Environment in Bohai area]. Tianjin, China: Zhong Guo Hai Yang Chu Ban She.

Wu, J., Zhu, E., & Zang, X. (2007). Zhong Guo Qu Yu Jing Ji Fa Zhan Zhan Lue [Regional economic development and strategies in China]. Tianjin, China: Zhong Guo Tianjin Ren Min Chu Ban She.

Xiao, J. (2006). Di San Jing Ji Zeng Zhang Dian De Jue Qi: Bo Hai Jing Ji Qu Fa Zhan Zhan Lue [Rise of the third economic growth point: Strategies for the development in Bohai Economic Region]. Beijing: Jing Ji Ke Xue Chu Ban She.

Xing, L. (1996). Bo Hai Jing Ji Quan [Bohai economic circle]. Dalian, China: Dalian Li Gong Da Xue Chu Ban She.

Zhang, L., & Zhou, J. (2005). Dang Dai De Bo Hai Jing Ji Qu [Bohai Economic Region in contemporary times]. Tianjin, China: Tianjin She Hui Ke Xue Chu Ban She.

Zhao, H. (2008). [Bohai economic circle and industrial development]. Beijing: China Economy Publishing.

Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook.


Qiǎo fù nán wéi wú mǐ zhī chuī

Source: Zhou, Guanqi. (2009). Bohai Economic Region. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 187–191. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Bohai Economic Region (Bóhǎi Jīngjìqū 渤海经济区)|Bóhǎi Jīngjìqū 渤海经济区 (Bohai Economic Region)

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