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them to accommodate international political, economic and cultural
exchanges. Domestically they are to act as regional hubs for economic
activities, transportation and information networks.
Competition between countries is believed to be essentially one
between cities. All developed countries, said Li Xiaojiang, turn out
to have a highly-developed central city that performs a function un-
limited by geographical boundaries.
“For example, New York, London and Paris all play a pivotal role
in international finance and trade,” Li said to ChinaReport. “Shouldn’t
China also build cities that have a serious economic reach and can
compete internationally on behalf of the country?”
Jia Ruoxiang, a department head at the Institute for Spatial Plan-
ning and Regional Economy under the National Development and
Reform Commission, defines a central city as a place that demon-
strates the highest input and output efficiency in an economic region.
“The building of a central city is a process of having factors of produc-
tion gather in that place and thus maximise the production efficiency
of that region,” said Jia, adding that the central cities are expected to
reshape the country’s economic geography from an administrative cap-
ital-based structure to one organised around separate economic hubs.
The building of new central cities is also expected to effectively re-
lieve the urban malaise currently afflicting Chinese metropolises. Li
Xun, CAUPD’s vice director, told ChinaReport that top-level design is
needed more than ever to enable Chinese cities to accommodate the

300 million more rural migrants that urbanisation will continue to
create in the following 20 years.
At least 10 more super-size cities are needed at the moment to share
the population burden that is pressing ever heavier upon Beijing and
a couple of other metropolitan centres, said Yang Weimin, deputy
head of the Leading Group on Finance and Economic Affairs, Chi-
na’s top economic policy-making institution. These central cities will
serve as the country’s new engines of growth, he said.
New economic engines are needed to drive the growth of less de-
veloped areas and relieve the pressures faced by existing metropolitan
centres that are currently attracting far more migrants than they can
take because of the advantages they enjoy in infrastructure and public
services, said Lu Zhiyan, a researcher of urban development and envi-
ronment at the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
“When we classify cities by the so-called first and second tiers, they
are evaluated individually in terms of their residents’ income levels
and housing prices,” Li Xiaojiang told ChinaReport. “A central city,
however, focuses on a city’s ability to lead the growth of a region,
namely its radiative capacity and its influence both at home and
Their selection is thus based on stricter assessment standards, which
will take into consideration a much wider range of urban aspects such
as the size of population, economic capacity, cultural influence, in-
ternational trade volume, innovation level, transportation and their

GDP of Designated National Central Cities (2015) US$ billion

Area: 16,410 square kilometres
Population: 21.7 million

Area: 11,916 square kilometres
Population: 15.5 million

Area: 6,340 square kilometres
Population: 24.2 million

Area: 7,434 square kilometres
Population: 13.5 million
Area: 82,400 square kilometres
Population: 30.2 million
Area: 12,121 square kilometres
Population: 14.7 million

Area: 8,494 square kilometres
Population: 10.6 million

Area: 7,446 square kilometres
Population: 9.6 million



164 181

98 72
187 197
116 81
210 224
132 90
229 243
240 263
Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, city government websites