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Economists Debate Jilin's Industrial Future

Economic experts disagree on whether Jilin Province, a traditional hotbed of heavy industry, should transition to light industry

By Zhang Qingchen Updated Sept.4

New research led by high-profile Peking University economist Justin Yifu Lin says the heavy-industry focused northeastern province of Jilin should pivot to light industries such as textile manufacturing. But not all economists agree with the findings, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reports. 

Lin's team found Jilin had great potential and a competitive advantage when it came to light industry, and urged it to cooperate with the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang in textile manufacturing. According to Fu Caihui, a member of the research team, Jilin Province's low labor costs – nearly half of China's coastal provinces – could be put to good use. 

But another economist, Sun Jianbo, said Zhejiang Province's textile industry already had a strong foundation, whereas to follow Lin's plan Jilin would need to pour money into an industrial transition which would come in part at the expense of its heavy industries. 

Furthermore, Northeast China's competitive advantage of cheap labor is waning, with labor-intensive and low-end manufacturing sectors moving to Southeast Asia where labor costs are far lower. As such, a transition to light industry would wind up leaning heavily on government support, which would make such an investment unreasonable.