A flock of sheep in the Yongqing Economic Development Zone pass a sign reading "Taiwan New City".
"New" Yongqing, in Hebei province close to the boundary of Beijing municipality, finally looks like it might justify a property developer's tagline and become the "closest liveable suburb to Beijing" 60km away.
Yongqing had for years made fruitless attempts to attract some of the economic windfalls of a much-talked-about integration of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei (also known as Jing-Jin-Ji).
Now the integration is taking on new momentum after being declared a showcase project by President Xi Jinping and included in Premier Li Keqiang's work report this year.
Along with real-estate projects targeting Beijingers feeling the pinch of high property prices, Yongqing county wants to attract some of the capital's businesses. Plans are under way to build a garment manufacturing and wholesale hub.
Eight markets covering garments, fur, footwear and small commodities in Beijing's famous Dahongmen wholesale district have agreed to move to the planned Yongqing International Garment City. An agreement on the mega-market was signed in mid-May, but Han said there were as yet no details of the timetable for its construction or the size of the investment involved.
The zone hopes to lure other garment markets from the area around Beijing Zoo.
The eight markets in Dahongmen comprise more than 9,000 shops employing 35,000 people. But the sector has created congestion, leaving it unwanted in the eyes of the municipal government as it seeks to reduce Beijing's traffic jams and air pollution.
Wu Jianjun , a shop owner at the Jingwen clothing market, is open to relocating. Like most of his fellow businessmen, he rents private homes nearby as workshops and sells at the market. "After all, Yongqing is still very close to Beijing, and I can have my own production line there instead of renting a place where I risk eviction at any time," he said.
Li Li, another Jingwen shop owner, is worried she might lose customers after the move. She also wonders whether the schools and hospitals are good enough. Li predicted fewer than half of shop owners would make the move. Those shops not doing well might simply withdraw from the industry or move to areas they felt offered better opportunities, she said.
The garment hub will also house factories, an outlet mall, a theme park and museum, among other attractions, according to a brochure about the development zone.
Shi Jiasheng , assistant to the general manager of Zhongguangxin, a real-estate agency in Beijing, said industry insiders mostly had high hopes for the Jing-Jin-Ji programme.
"Everyone has expectations over the plan, as it is a national strategy now," Shi said. Developers were especially optimistic about the "mega Beijing" plan.
Governments of some nearby cities are waiting to see how the integration plays out.
The head of Cangzhou's publicity bureau told the Sunday Morning Post it had no plans of its own to become a key sub-centre to the capital but would "firmly support and follow the arrangements of the central government".
The government of Langfang , which oversees Yongqing, also said it would await orders from the provincial government.
Li Chen, a researcher with Beijing-based real-estate developer Huaxia Xingfu Jiye, said his company remained cautious about the programme.
"The three places still have many things to decide, with different views on industries and city planning," Li said. "So we shouldn't move too early."
Despite the announcement of several big infrastructure projects, including a new airport and a seventh ring road to be located largely in Hebei, many believe true integration is still far off.
Hebei has tried to explore growth opportunities within the framework since the National Development and Reform Commission launched the idea a decade ago. Steelmaker Shougang Group, one of the nation's biggest, moved to Caofeidian in Tangshan . But the industrial zone has numerous unfinished buildings and few residents, Faren magazine reported recently.
Langfang has drawn criticism for attracting only a few low-level institutions, while Yanjiao, on its outskirts, has been dubbed a "dormitory city".
"A satellite city should make its residents feel part of a community," Han said. "Real integration should mean a proper mix of culture and public services such as medical care and education."
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