Growing pains: China's shrinking cities are addicted to building

By Sidney Leng / | April 2, 2019 3:02 PM SGT
?South China Morning Post
On paper, these debt-fuelled projects are major contributors to economic growth. But in reality, they do not bring real productivity, raising further questions over the efficiency and foresight of China's urban planning.
New urban constructions should, in theory, go hand in hand with population growth. But in many shrinking cities, local governments are still building, even though they need to accommodate fewer people.
?The Post analysed official population statistics for the 661 officially-designated cities in China between 2010 and 2017. After discounting those that had either been absorbed into other urban sprawls or did not exist in 2010, 627 remained.
Nationwide, the total urban population, including temporary workers, grew by 20 per cent between 2010 and 2017. The area of built-up urban area, measured in square kilometres, soared by 40 per cent over the same period, according to official yearbooks of urban construction produced by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.
The findings roughly correlate with a recent study by Wu Kang, a professor from the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing, who compared data from 2007 and 2016 and found that 11.5 per cent of cities had experienced more than three years of falling population over the course of that period.
Other scholars have used different methods to estimate the scale of China's shrinking cities, including Long Ying, a professor at Tsinghua University, who used satellite imagery to monitor the intensity of night lights in more than 3,300 cities and towns between 2013 and 2016. In 28 per cent of cases, the lights had dimmed.
In the ?Post's analysis of official data, more than one-third of those 71 cities still churning out new industrial zones or residential districts were located in China's northeast.
The cities are heavily concentrated in Liaoning Province, an important industrial hub, which was at the heart of a data manipulation scandal in 2015 when it was reported that some local governments had inflated their fiscal revenues by as much as 23 per cent.
In 2016, Liaoning reported unprecedented negative growth of 2.5 per cent.
?Mapped: the 71 Chinese cities...