Hainan wants larger population amid efforts of building free trade port

Hainan is to be developed as a free trade port. Photo: Xinhua

Hainan has set a goal of having its permanent population hit the 10 million mark, as the Chinese government plans to build a free trade port in the southern island province by 2025.

The Chinese tourist destination is planning to grow its permanent population to 12.48 million in 2030 from 9.25 million in 2017, helped by the country's abandonment of the one-child policy and efforts in transforming the island into another trade and business center, according to a plan for the growth of population which was released recently by the Hainan provincial government.

The population growth plan is seen as the result of an announcement at a ceremony in April celebrating the 30th anniversary of the founding of Hainan province and Hainan special economic zone, in which Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Hainan is chosen as the location of the country's first free trade port.

A free trade port is normally superior to a free trade zone as a new type of economic zone which features a higher degree of openness in market access, trade, investment and personnel exchange.

The April announcement dispirits some coastal cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen which spearheaded the country's opening up movement by initially establishing free trade zones, and comparatively assures Hainan of sufficient investment by both the government and companies.

In the 2011-2015 period, the natural growth rate of population of Hainan basically stood at about 8.7‰, contributing to the stable growth of population in the recent years, the Hainan provincial government said in a statement attained by Sino-US.com.

But some demographers beg to differ, saying that such a rate of natural increase is too low to guarantee the realization of Hainan's population growth target.

"The rate of natural increase [of 8.7‰] is not enough for Hainan to reach its population growth target, and the construction of the free trade port needs more talents," said Liu Xiangdong, a senior economist at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a Beijing-based think tank.

Liu's view is supported by Li Shijie, deputy director of the School of Economics and Management at Hainan University, who said that the population growth target could not be reached without related support policies. "The population and talent structure must match with Hainan's status as a free trade port with Chinese characteristics," said Li.

A month before the rollout of the population growth plan, which acknowledges problems such as the shorter school years Hainan residents have than those in the economically developed regions and the high proportion of poor population, the Hainan provincial government launched an action plan to introduce one million high-end talents by 2025, a move that could be seen as an effort in providing a sound environment to talented workers who can contribute to the construction of the free trade port.

In order to attract domestic and global talents, the island province will also adopt a series of favorable policies including housing subsidies, supporting research funds and relaxed residency and visa application requirements. In April, visitors from 59 countries were granted 30-day, visa-free entry to the island of Hainan, in a sign of the province's increased openness.

Li said that more detailed rules and favorable policies for talent introduction need to be released soon especially at a time when Hainan's population and talent structures are imbalanced.

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