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    China’s Regional Governments, Long Divided, Are Building Bridges

    Provinces don’t usually get along. Beijing hopes a new layer of government can change that.

    SHANGHAI — China’s regional governments are not known for working together well, especially across provincial lines. It can be so hard for them to get along that when Jiangsu province and Shanghai, a province-level autonomous city, had to share a lake, they decided the best way was to cut it in two with an enormous net.

    Each side of Yuandang Lake was managed according to its owner’s environmental rules. In aerial photos from February 2020, Jiangsu’s side is a healthy light green, while Shanghai’s is dark and clogged with algae.

    But as China pushes regional planning with new “city clusters,” the net finally came down in mid-2020. In its place is a gleaming, snake-shaped pedestrian and cycling bridge spanning the provincial boundary, which attracts over 5,000 visitors a day, according to Lu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Water Bureau of Shanghai’s Qingpu District. Today, the water is clean and the waterfront is home to many wild birds.

    The bridge is part of a plan to integrate the Yangtze River Delta into a single vast urban area. China has planned to develop 19 super megalopolises or city clusters, each covering an area that already has geographic, economic, and cultural ties.

    The Yangtze River Delta cluster is among the country’s most prominent efforts for the move, covering Zhejiang province, Jiangsu province, and Shanghai. Home to 220 million people, the region represents nearly a quarter of China’s annual gross domestic product. Eight of its cities have over 1 trillion yuan ($150 billion) in GDP.

    The cross-province effort is intended to get local governments to work together on infrastructure, economy, and the environment, and to reduce redundant infrastructure and race-to-the-bottom competition.

    Transportation infrastructure, like high-speed railroads and highways, are being built to facilitate intra-province transportation. A new inter-provincial highway cut the driving time from Jiangsu’s Nantong and Zhejiang’s Ningbo, two regional economic centers, by an hour.

    But travel between provinces remains fraught with uncertainty due to China’s “zero-COVID” policy. Until June, anyone traveling from Shanghai to neighboring Suzhou, a city in the eastern Jiangsu province, was placed in centralized quarantine for a week. Now, the quarantine requirements have been phased out, but travelers still have to register with a local “digital health code” system and the national “travel code” to exit the train station.

    By Yuandang Lake, restaurants say they’ve been getting more weekend foot traffic as the revitalized lake draws families. “More tourists helps businesses around the lake,” an employee of a lakeside restaurant told Sixth Tone.

    Editor: David Cohen.

    (Header image: Yuandang Bridge connects Qingpu District, Shanghai to Jiangsu province, Sept. 19, 2021. IC)