The Asian Mediterranean
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The Asian Mediterranean

Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century

François Gipouloux

This insightful book draws upon a wide range of disciplines – political economy, geography and international relations – to examine how Asia has returned to its central position in the world economy.
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Chapter 18: The Asian Mediterranean and the Reshaping of China’s Economic Space

François Gipouloux


At the end of the 1980s, reform and opening led to a fragmentation and reshaping of China’s economic space. China’s traditional boundaries dilated and became blurred. Ancient regional entities were revived. The dividing lines were not just geographical. The traditional division – climatic as well as cultural and economic – between north and south, with the Yangzi River as its marker, lost some of its importance with the appearance of meridian divides running from the north to the south of the country. These meridians clearly delimited the coastal zone, central China and the vast western area. The lines of division however, were primarily geo-economic. The concept of differentiated (‘ladder steps’) development (tidu fazhanlun) prevailed over that of balanced development (junheng buju). These three Chinas developed at different rhythms. The division lines differentiated regions that were modelled by contrasting economic logics. This more precise reading of the map clearly took into account the regional differences in China, and, indeed, the Chinese authorities endorsed it in the late 1980s.1 There was undeniably a correlation between slow growth and the overwhelming domination of state ownership: in the mid-1990s, in the west, especially in the provinces of Tibet, Qinghai, Shaanxi and Shanxi, the state sector represented more than 80 per cent of all fixed assets in industry. This proportion had hardly changed in 2006. A second correlation can also be drawn between strong growth and participation in international economic exchange. Along the coastline, which had become an arc of world-scale manufacturing, the contribution of foreign-owned firms...

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