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ADB's Work in the People's Republic of China

A Partnership for a Vibrant Future

Suzhou Creek, Shanghai
The rehabilitation of Suzhou Creek has improved sanitation services and access to parks and green spaces in Shanghai

With ADB at its side, the People’s Republic of China set the standard for using rapid economic development to reduce poverty. Today, the two are partnering to support development in the region.

In Mengmai village, nestled in the picturesque Xishuangbanna region of Yunnan Province, Ha Ge and his family maintain a field of ancient tea trees. The tea made from the leaves of the trees is valuable, but the family historically did not earn much from it.

In 2000, a highway was completed that connected isolated rural communities, such as Mengmai village, with highways leading to major markets in the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) and Southeast Asia.

The refurbishing of Route 3 highway, which was supported by an ADB project, has changed the fortunes of Ha Ge and his family. “Before 2000, we weren’t making much money, but today we can make up to 8,000 yuan ($1,125) a month or more for our tea,” he says. “We’ve been able to buy a phone, a television, and a motorcycle.”

Ha Ge and his family’s story is just one of many. Since the 1980s, the PRC has lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty. In the once impoverished countryside, the number of extremely poor people fell from about 250 million in 1978 to less than 15 million 3 decades later. This was a stunning drop from about 31% of the population to 1.6%. “The rise of the People’s Republic of China is the economic story of our times,” says ADB Vice-President Stephen P. Groff.

"The rise of the People’s Republic of China is the economic story of our times."

Stephen P. Groff
ADB Vice-President

ADB has been a partner in this effort since 1986 and initial operations focused on building up the country’s industrial sector and financial institutions.

Bridges to Prosperity

By the 1990s, ADB began supporting major infrastructure projects in the PRC. This included building the iconic Nanpu and Yangpu bridges across the Huangpu River in Shanghai.

When the Nanpu Bridge opened in 1991, it was the country’s longest cable-stayed bridge, with a length of 846 meters. The Yangpu Bridge, which opened 2 years later, was 1,178 meters long, setting a world record at the time. Before the bridges, vehicles used either a slow ferry or one of two congested tunnels to cross the river.

When the bridges opened, Shanghai’s Pudong district was a sprawling undeveloped area nearly the size of Singapore. Today, it is one of the world’s premier business districts and a driver of economic growth in the southern part of the country. Its success has been linked to these two original bridges that helped jumpstart initial development.

Buses at the bus rapid transit terminal in Yichang City
Buses line up ready for passengers at the bus rapid transit terminal in Yichang City

Extending Access to Infrastructure

By 1993, less than a decade after the partnership began, ADB had invested $1 billion in projects and programs in the PRC. This included the Dalian Water Supply Project, ADB’s first in the water sector, which provided clean water to more than 2 million people.

In 1998, ADB and the PRC partnered on the Hebei Roads Development Project and built a 141-kilometer dual four-lane expressway that helped expand the national highway system running from Beijing to Tianjin and on to Shanghai. The project also linked poor towns and villages to the new highway with feeder roads. Employment was increased and poverty lowered all along the new road system.

In the late 1990s, ADB’s work in the country increasingly shifted to include the less developed central and western regions. As part of this reorientation, ADB financed the country’s first build–operate–transfer project in the water sector. The Chengdu No. 6 Water Plant provided 400,000 cubic meters of water a day to the city and brought private sector efficiency and cost savings to the public water supply system.

Supporting Greener Growth

In 2001, ADB’s environment, natural resources, and agriculture portfolios began to expand, with the approval of the West Henan Agriculture Development Project, which increased agricultural production and rural incomes, and reduced poverty. The Yellow River Flood Management Sector Project promoted economic growth and increased environmental quality by protecting people and businesses from floods.

In 2004, ADB and the PRC worked together on the Shanxi Coal Mine Methane Development Project, which captured methane gas from coal mines and coal beds and used this gas to generate energy. The country has been host to some of ADB’s landmark projects focusing on “green growth”—promoting economic growth that is environmentally sustainable. An example is the 2008 Guangdong Energy Efficiency and Environment Improvement Investment Program, the first large-scale energy efficiency project in the country.

Another example is the Sanjiang Plain Wetlands Protection Project, which integrated watershed management, wetland nature reserve management, alternative livelihood programs, and education.

A Deepened Relationship

By 2000, ADB had established a Resident Mission in Beijing. ADB has maintained a close relationship with the government and supported the PRC’s participation in regional cooperation efforts, such as the Greater Mekong Subregion and Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation programs. ADB’s partnership with the PRC now has many facets.

A pupil of Yichang primary school
A pupil of Yichang primary school

The PRC was the first developing country to become both a donor and a recipient of assistance from ADB. By 2005, the country had contributed $30 million to the Asian Development Fund, which provides assistance to the poorest member countries of ADB. During the same year, it established the $20 million PRC Regional Cooperation and Poverty Reduction Fund, which is financing projects that reduce poverty and support social development in ADB’s developing member countries.

ADB has also supported financial innovation in the PRC. In 2005, ADB and the PRC issued the first local currency bond from an international development institution. One billion yuan in “Panda” bonds were issued in the domestic capital market. ADB also played a critical role in responding to the Wenchuan earthquake, which killed more than 69,000 people in 2008 and left about 8 million homeless. The ADB-supported Emergency Assistance for Wenchuan Earthquake Reconstruction Project provided about $400 million to respond and help rebuild after the devastation.

In 2010 and 2014, the government asked ADB to provide inputs for the formulation of the country’s strategic plans. Through a technical assistance project, ADB helped prepare the 12th and 13th five-year plans, which are the basis for the PRC’s economic development programs.

Today, the partnership continues with a focus on deepening public and private sector operations, sharing knowledge, and encouraging cooperation throughout Asia and the Pacific.

This article was originally published in a special edition of Together We Deliver, which tells 50 stories highlighting the importance of good partnerships in Asia and the Pacific in meeting the complex development challenges of this dynamic region.