China’s State Council has given the go-ahead to a master plan to create a low-rise, green city in the urban belt surrounding Beijing, in a bid to lighten the burden on Beijing and accelerate the development of Hebei province, which is now an economic backwater.

What has caught the eye of planners is that the Communist Party’s top leadership has effectively banned replicating the usual symbols of a metropolis – like skyscrapers and mega malls – in the 1,576-square kilometer area roughly the size of Los Angeles.

The plan to build a new city from scratch is Xi Jinping’s brainchild, who named the place – still nothing but large swaths of fallow wasteland about 100 kilometers southwest of Beijing – Xiong’an in April 2017.

The out-of-the-blue announcement of a “millennium strategy” back then surprised many, but it is rumored that Xiong’an is the birthplace of Xi’s mother, who is 92.

Xinhua once said that the new city envisaged by Xi would resonate for the next millennium, putting it on par with the decision to make what is now Beijing the capital of the Middle Kingdom during the Song dynasty (960AD-1279).

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Xi Jinping (center) talks to local cadres as his aides hold a draft master plan during his inspection tour to the Xiong’an New Area in 2017. Photo: Xinhua

The 2018-2035 master plan for the Xiong’an New Area spans three counties in Hebei province and lays down policy brush strokes to construct a city of modernity and greenery, for the relocation of businesses, residents and universities from the overcrowded Beijing.

The detailed plan has stipulated stringent height, landscaping as well as domestic and commercial plot ratios that apply to all developments, big and small, meaning no building taller than 100 meters or fancy shopping malls larger than 10,000 square meters can be erected there, China News Services cited a planner with the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design as saying.

It is said Xi was impressed by Washington’s planning and low-density cityscape during his visits to the US capital, where no buildings can be taller than the 169-meter Washington Monument.

He also reportedly prodded planners to emulate the layout of the Australian capital Canberra, Canadian capital Ottawa and Brazilian capital Brasília during a Politburo meeting in 2017.

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A town in Xiong’an New Area. Photo: Xinhua
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An aerial view of Washington. Photo: Flickr

So don’t expect skyscrapers or ultramodern malls in Xiong’an, and, realty developers and speculators were also warned not to cash in on Xi’s dream city, as Washington, Canberra, Ottawa and Brasília share several things in common: moderate development, open space and tranquil, lavish greenery.

Morgan Stanley forecasts the new area could lure as much as 2.4 trillion yuan (US$350 billion) in investment over the next decade, adding as much as 0.4 percentage points to economic growth every year, making it the largest infrastructure project for Xi and possibly his successors.

The master plan will cover the decade-long construction of Xiong’an until the mid-2030s, by which time the state-level new area must be developed into a booming city on par with Beijing and an economic dynamo so Xi can take the dream city as his key economic legacy.