Building New Capital Cities: Amaravati and Xiong’an

Ms. Ramya Kannan, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

A look into the development of major cities in India and China would yield very different results. While the former has for the most part seen organic growth of urban centres based on opportunities for differentiated labour, the latter is known for its unique model of planned expansion (Euromonitor Research 2013). In keeping with its ‘urbanization with Chinese characteristics’, Xi Jinping administration announced the building of a subsidiary capital in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic triangle last year, called Xiong’an New Area (雄安新区 Xióng’ān Xīnqū). The development of a city from scratch is not new in China, where the government has often allocated resources to specific city-building projects (Gere 2017). What is interesting is that the state government of Andhra Pradesh (AP) in India committed itself to a similar project in 2015 with the announcement of a new capital city in Amaravati. While Xiong’an signifies an attempt to downsize an overpopulated city with too many functions, Amaravati seeks to expand the very notion of a capital city in India. Nevertheless, strong political motives, new policy measures and large investments underlie these capitals in the making.

Amaravati was envisioned as a world-class metropolis modeled on various cities, including Singapore and Shenzhen, which would redefine urbanization in India and establish AP as an important region.The AP government chose to compensate for the loss of Hyderabad by creating its own capital city on the banks of the river Krishna. Amaravati has been pitched as a ‘leafy metropolis’ which will be a respite from the traffic congested roads and high air pollution of other major Indian cities (Deccan Chronicle 2018). Although the progress seems very slow, the Naidu government continues to present it as a ‘land of limitless opportunities’ with ‘efficient resource management’ (Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board).

Xiong’an New Area (XNA) in Hebei province is slated to be a ‘modern, eco-friendly city’ which promotes innovation and transforms how China builds urban centres (China Daily 2018). Apart from relieving Beijing from its non-capital functions, Xiong’an is expected to revive Hebei and act as an engine of growth for Northern China. The XNA project has similarities to the development of Shenzhen as an industrial zone under China’s Reform and Opening Up strategy of Deng Xiaoping. Notably, successful former mayors of Shenzhen and Shanghai, Xu Qin and Xu Kuangdi, have been appointed by Xi Jinping at important posts to lead the development of Xiong’an (Devonshire-Ellis 2017; South China Morning Post 2017). However, the government has carefully pitched XNA as a region which will encourage a healthy lifestyle in terms of the technology used as well as its emphasis on human-environment interaction. The shift towards people-oriented cities is in line with the new urbanization programme adopted in 2014, and it is visible in the changing rhetoric which prioritizes sustainability over economic growth.

At the level of planning and design, Amaravati has witnessed collaborations involving McKinsey & company, Surbana Jurong and the governments of Singapore and Japan, among others. However, as investors are reluctant to fund a new city, the government has started a crowd funding campaign for its infrastructure development ( This, along with the large-scale Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) introduced by the government has resulted in the projection of Amaravati as the ‘people’s capital’. LPS was considered the ideal mode of acquiring land from the villages and hamlets, wherein the villagers would voluntarily give their land and the government would return it in proportion to their original share after developing infrastructure and public facilities. On paper, the new services are supposed to provide unprecedented benefits to the landowners because of land value gain. However, various accounts of villagers suggest involvement of coercion in giving up farmland, their only source of livelihood (Ramachandraiah 2016; Tarafdar 2017). The city is also expected to consume the fertile floodplains as well as the forests between Krishna and Guntur districts with its infrastructure projects, possibly causing irreversible damage to the fragile ecosystem (Minhaz 2017).

In China, a state-owned company called China Xiong’an Construction & Investment Group Corporation Limited was set up with Hebei provincial government as its only stakeholder. It is widely projected that the area spanning across three counties was chosen for XNA because of its relative proximity to Beijing. At the same time, the fact that it is almost 100km from Beijing means that daily commute poses difficulties for the people, thereby compelling them to move here permanently. The soaring prices following the announcement to develop XNA compelled the government to ban property speculation.  However, it is unlikely that affordable housing for displaced villagers will be available. The land is designated as a wasteland, so that the government can avoid questions on land grabbing (Global Times 2018). Many small, unlicensed factories have been functioning in backyards or leased land, and their recent shut-down without compensation will take away a source of income for numerous residents (Caixin Global 2018). The region surrounds the Baiyangdian Lake, the largest wetland ecosystem in North China, which has already been affected by toxic waste from surrounding factories as well as households. Despite initiation of clean-up and restoration efforts, scientists have stated that the area is not fit for human contact (South China Morning Post 2017).

The intended ‘success’ of Xiong’an and Amaravati cannot be determined only by the vision of the governments. It relies on a number of factors, including whether those who occupy these regions see the potential for growth. The AP government faces the risk of creating an imitation capital derived from model cities in other countries, which might hinder its growth as well as harm the surrounding ecosystem. Although the strict top-down structure and state-sponsored project ensures that the new region in China will not lack investments or resources, there is apprehension that Xiong’an could turn into just another city which is under-occupied and cannot keep up with the functions of a capital. While it is too early to determine the quality of life in both the two cities based only on the master plan and reports, their claim of people-centric urbanization can be problematized on the basis of those it is likely to exclude—the original residents.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *