A hitherto anonymous region near China’s smog-choked capital has been overrun by house buyers after Beijing unveiled “historic” plans to build a new city there in a bid to slash pollution and congestion.
Plans for the Xiongan New Area, a special economic zone that authorities say will eventually cover an area nearly three times that of New York, were announced by the Communist party’s top leaders on Saturday with a flurry of government propaganda.
In a joint statement two of China’s most powerful political bodies, the central committee and state council, described the new city, which will straddle three counties about 100km southwest of Beijing, as “a strategy crucial for a millennium to come”.
“[This is a] major historic and strategic choice made by the Chinese Communist party’s central committee with comrade Xi Jinping as the core,” the joint notice added using the latest political title to be bestowed upon China’s paramount leader.
Official news agency Xinhua said Xiongan’s creation would reduce pressure on China’s car-clogged, 22 million-resident capital, and “usher in a new chapter in the country’s historic transitioning to coordinated, inclusive and sustainable growth”.
“Xiongan will be an answer to China’s growth conundrum: breakneck urban sprawl must give way to a balanced and inclusive development strategy,” Xinhua added in a breathless commentary trumpeting the mega-project.
“More than a mere replica of China’s past success … it will tell the tale of the future of a new city.”President Xi said the city would be “a demonstration area for innovative development ... [which] should prioritise ecological protection [and] improve people’s well-being.”
Bargain hunters reacted immediately to the hyperbole, flocking to the region in their droves to hoover up homes they hoped to resell for huge profits.
Local media reports claimed property prices nearly doubled in the hours after the surprise announcement.
“I was so excited that I didn’t sleep the whole night”, one would-be buyer, named as Chen Bo, told the Beijing News, according to state broadcaster CGTN. “The plan is a pie falling from the sky”.
Bloomberg reported that the scramble for property caused gridlock on roads leading into the area while local hotels were flooded with guests.
Local estate agents were forced to close on Monday after the government introduced an emergency sales ban in response to a surge in interest. Reuters said officials took to the streets with loudhailers to shout warnings against illegal property speculation.
The online frenzy was such that propaganda officials reportedly ordered Chinese websites to “to control negative commentary related to the establishment [of the new city]”.
The buzz surrounding Xiongan stems from the very public backing it has received from China’s leaders. CGTN claimed there were signs the city would become “China’s next Pudong”, a reference to Shanghai’s skycraper-packed east-side which was farmland just a few decades ago.
State media also compared the new city to Shenzhen, a wealthy southern mega-city near Hong Kong that was the springboard for the game-changing economic reforms introduced during the 1980s by former leader Deng Xiaoping.
China has created dozens of “new areas” in recent years as part of a massive urbanisation drive that has seen hundreds of millions of people pour into its cities. Critics say many have become ghost towns but in a recent interview Wade Shepard, the author of a book on the phenomenon, said some were now beginning to take off.
“There’s really no such thing as a ghost city. It’s just a phase of development.”