■ 23:25 (UTC+08:00), 16 DEC 2017 | CHN CHAOYANGMEN, BEIJING
Usually it’s supposed to be “remixed” properly as Beijing + Tianjin + Hebei or the rather awkward-sounding Jingjinji. Except for this time, Hebei did take centre stage.
You will have remembered I had some pretty solid “Hebei roots and connections”. Oh for sure, I was born in the Chinese capital, which is Beijing, not Hebei. Yet apart from highway and railway mileage, my wife also has her roots in the province, and I presented the Beautiful Hebei contest three months after winning our 2022 Winter Olympics bid. The UK Hebei Association also recommended me as a co-host to a spring festival gala for the Chinese community in Portsmouth just a few months into 2016. To them, I was a serious doer. So it was no wonder they decided I belonged to something much bigger.
I am aware of how these organisations for returned overseas Chinese work, and they were aware of my Swiss nationality in addition to Chinese roots. (I became a member and thus the sole member from Switzerland.) The meeting I attended in Shijiazhuang saw a lot of mutual understanding and reconciliation. The perfect pill for understanding? A previous policy in Chinese-language media with regards to my special ties to China and Switzerland: political loyalty to Bern, concern and care by heritage to Beijing. There are many, many Swiss values I don’t want to dump, and the great land of China is too big for me to simply fly past and not do anything to it — as in, constructive projects (like, for example, Rail English, which took off big time). So in the morning hours, in the form of an update on Chinese situations, we got to know Hebei better (as well as key national policy; remember, inside the great hall were quite a number of people in business, and they surely wanted in on the development!), and I pick that province not just for 2022, but for wider integration plans with the rest of North China. Oh, and also for this novel Xiongan New Area, which still is in its early stages, but has been given so much fanfare by Beijing, I didn’t want to miss out on it.
Which leads me into my afternoon talk. It was as much as a talk of “what’s next?” as a “summary of frustrations” (to the benefit of North China, in actual fact). I went over many things in the round-table event…
- In terms of further integration across North China (Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei) I made the case that integration is far from complete. The average highway is generally of very good quality in Beijing but once you’re south of the border in Hebei, quality is highly variable. That is not called full integration yet. There should be a case of picking the highest possible standard amongst the Jingjinji trio — and then using that across the entire region.
- In terms of transport links I made a very clear case for more railway links. High speed rail was very high my list; it just made sense for China, as well as making the country look better. Regional, intercity rail was just starting. We needed to see more. Where are all these planned lines? Build them — early!
- In terms of “exciting Hebei”: Many people aren’t really looking at Hebei for what it’s worth. I know from the capital that some just see it as a “huge swath of land” enveloping Beijing and that’s pretty much it. It’s now more dynamic as ever, certainly with Zhangjiakou and Xiongan in the works. Maybe if more people chose to settle and develop Hebei, things might look a lot more on the way up. Also in the case of the many different industries, we’re still looking at a place where Beijing is hogging the best and brightest. (Maybe Xiongan will sort that one out. Fingers crossed.) There is no proper integration unless you spread it nicely and fairly, like maybe peanut butter on a loaf of bread. (Of course, in front of the microphone, I did not get that culinarily artistic!)
- What could happen to Jingjinji post-2022. This was something I put in a fair bit of effort trying to describe. Basically, after the Olympic flame passes on to whoever gets 2026 (Switzerland? Yes please!), the stadia in Zhangjiakou risk being empty. The integration efforts risk abandoning Zhangjiakou altogether post-Games. Why not make them permanent and use these as springboards for even better integration across all of Northern China?
(I had a lot of things to talk about. I seriously didn’t want to make the bloke next to me — feel like that… Oh well!)
We arrived in Shijiazhuang the night before on the Revival Express train, and departed today back to Beijing. The best thing was it just took around an hour to complete the whole 270 km journey. By car, it would seem like you could pull off the journey in 5th gear at 120 km/h (75 mph) taking about twice as long, but remember the toll gates, the Capital Checkpoints (which are both annoying and a necessary safety measure at the same time; otherwise the city risks being NYC at 2 AM), and of course the horrendous traffic jams! The best part was when the train did 120-160 km/h by Dujiakan, home to Beijing’s #epicFAIL toll gate (situation made slightly better due to widening a few years back; but in the early 2000s, it wasn’t that scary at all!). Then we would sally nonchalantly on an elevated track over all these horrendous queues at ground level. And you wonder why I like trains! ■ ■ ■