The Shenyang Economic Zone is an exercise in the theory that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
In 2010, Communist Party of China chiefs announced an idea to help with Shenyang’s revitalization. It created a combination of eight cities including Shenyang and its environs, brought together as the Shenyang Economic Zone. The central government announced that this would become a national-level pilot reform zone for emerging industries: an important accolade.
Shenyang, by far the biggest component, is at the heart of the zone. Impressive in its own right, the city has a population of 8.3 million and has been a centre of industry for more than a century. The SEZ makes it the centrepiece of a far grander area of 75,000 square kilometres, with a population of 24 million, embracing the smaller cities of Anshan, Fushun, Benxi, Yingkou, Fuxin, Liaoyang and Tieling.
The idea is that the greater scale elevates the whole region and that cooperation over a broader area lifts all eight cities and their hinterlands. The city of Shenyang becomes the main hub for finance and trade, while other areas of specialization fan out more broadly within the zone, such as advanced manufacturing, modern architecture, aviation products and heavy agriculture.
Shenyang has been, as its Urban Planning Museum says, “the cradle of numerous miracles in Chinese industry” and the theory is that the economic zone brings together the right industries and resources for it to continue to have such a role in a new era of advanced engineering and production.
Central to this vision is the transport infrastructure linking the cities. From the outset, the central government has called for a network of subways, expressways and intercity light rail systems to enable people in Shenyang to travel to any partner city in an hour. That work continues, and a major arterial road can be seen under construction in Shenyang city today.
Shenyang Economic Zone is a different entity to the Shenyang Economic and Technological Development Zone (the Shenyang ETDZ), which was approved as a state-level development zone in April 1993, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Southwest of downtown Shenyang, it focuses on equipment manufacturing, chemicals and auto parts.