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Locals have high hopes for Xiongan New Area

 

First she was in disbelief. Then she was amazed. Then she realized everyone around her was talking about the same thing.

Those were Zhang Suti's first hours after news broke that a new economic zone would be built in her hometown.

"I was overjoyed to find out I am now a local from the national new area," said Zhang, the 50-year-old owner of a farmhouse resort.

China announced Saturday it would establish the Xiongan New Area in Hebei province, which neighbors Beijing, as a measure to advance the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.

The Xiongan New Area is another new area of national significance after the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and the Shanghai Pudong New Area, according to the announcement.

Zhang's hometown of Baiyangdian, 160 km southwest of Beijing, is located in Anxin county, one of three counties under the planned Xiongan New Area.

Dubbed the "Pearl of North China," Baiyangdian is one of the largest freshwater wetlands in north China, essential to conserving water for the North China Plain.

"I don't know what the other new areas are like, as I have never been there," Zhang said. "I don't know what Xiongan will be like either, but I believe that the environment and life here will improve."

Covering an area of 366 square kilometers, Baiyangdian has 143 small lakes. Various aquatic products, including fish, shrimp, crab, shellfish, lotus roots, gorgon fruit, and water chestnuts are harvested here.

Reeds were once a major product and women could be found weaving mats at home for a living, though this scene is disappearing as reed mats are no longer popular.

Now, while most villagers work elsewhere, Zhang has stayed behind to run a family inn, offering farmhouse accommodation and food for visitors.

"I can earn about 80,000 yuan ($12,000) to 90,000 yuan a year," said Zhang. She promotes her inn via social media, which lets her communicate with the outside world.

In addition to the environment, the wetlands' revolutionary history also draws tourists. The domestic film "Little Soldier Zhang Ga" tells the story of a teen guerrilla from Baiyangdian who fights against the invasion of Japanese troops during World War II.

A specific plan on developing the area has not been released yet, but the move will help phase out some non-capital functions from Beijing, explore a new model of optimized development in densely populated areas, and restructure the urban layout in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, according to the circular.

The Baiyangdian high-speed railway station opened in December 2015, which has allowed people and products to flow in.

"Xiongan New Area is intended to receive part of Beijing's population. We have made up our mind to attract them with our unique culture and extraordinary environment," said Liu Wuqi, deputy manager at Baiyangdian Wenhuayuan Tourism Company.

 
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