Five years after it was floated, China's plan to develop its western regions has helped provinces such as Sichuan to break out of economic isolation, but has failed to realize the goal of closing the gap with the flourishing eastern seaboard.
\nSichuan, for centuries one of China's granaries, today boasts of attracting 88 of the world's top 500 corporations and has raked in more investment in the last five years than ever before.
\nThe province of 87 million has the ninth largest gross national product in China, but a humbling figure is the province's paltry 2 percent share of all foreign investment into China last year.
\n"This isn't bad, but too small when compared to the east," said Tang Limin, director of the provincial office for the promotion of investment. He said the percentage of capital injected into Sichuan last year was "a bit compacted."
\n"After having concentrated investment on infrastructure projects, we are now trying to develop our resources," Tang said.
\nSome Chinese experts are more forthright in their views about the plan to develop the west.
\n"I think many things have changed since the start of the policy of `going west,' but the problem is that the gap between the east and west has continued to grow," said Liu Shiqing, an academic at the Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences.
\nLiu cites the building of high speed railways in the eastern part of the country listed in a recent national development plan as an example of the continued preference for investment in the east.
\nStill cities like Chengdu, which French President Jacques Chirac was set to visit yesterday, have benefited from the initiative to bring western China out of its backwardness.
\nChengdu has registered a 13 percent annual growth rate in recent years, compared to between 8.0 percent and 9.0 percent growth nationwide.
\nThe city has also begun to attract both large Chinese and Western corporations, including a US$270 million investment from computer chip maker Intel, which the government says is the largest single investment in western China.
\n"For light manufacturing, Chengdu is better than Chongqing, which is more suitable to heavy industry," said Zhang Ruji, the head of the Chengdu-based US law firm King Wood, discussing the rivalry between China's two big southwestern cities.
\nOnce an old military base, Sichuan is rich in water resources and well placed to compete in machinery, aircraft and new technologies.
\nAlthough Sichuan ranks high among China's regions in education and culture, it suffers from a lack of publicity and name recognition, which explains in part why the policy of developing the west has failed to spark much enthusiasm.
\n"We are not on the radar screen," said Richard Morgan, project director for Eli, a British consulting firm which is seeking to bring to Chengdu big companies that can help promote the west.
\nTang Limin agreed: "The natural resources and assets of Sichuan are known in China, but not overseas."
\nIronically, Sichuan is the home province of Deng Xiaoping (
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