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Inner Mongolia: the richest region of China by GDP per capita?

Map of China’s provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions and special administrative regions. Source: chokkicx / Getty Images

Inner Mongolia is an Autonomous Region on the border with Mongolia and Russia. The name of the territory goes together with the ancient province of Outer Mongolia. Outer Mongolia was the territory of the current nation of Mongolia plus the area of Tuva, which belongs now to the Russian Federation.
The territory varies a lot between the West and the East. For this reason the region is divided in two: Western and Eastern Inner Mongolia.
China controlled the Western part (with some interruptions throughout history) since Zhou dynasty, around 3000 years ago. The Eastern area was effectively annexed by the Jurchen tribes. They would later found the Qing dynasty and dominate China from 1644.
As Autonomous Region, Inner Mongolia has two official languages: Mandarin and Mongolian.

Inner Mongolia, home to the biggest Mongol population of the world

The south-western part of Inner Mongolia reaches the famous Tibetan plateau and Gobi desert.
Inner Mongolia is among the biggest areas of China, measuring alone more than 1 million square km.
Due to the vastness of the territory, the climate varies a lot, but overall the winters are long, cold and dry. The springs come with strong sandstorms, while the summers are dry and extremely warm.
The population of Inner Mongolia is mostly Han, but the Mongol minority is above 5 million people. This is more than three times the Mongolian population of Mongolia itself. There is also a significant Manchu minority, as well as some Hui and Daur.

A yurt in Inner MongoliaAs some could put it, the climate is not exactly welcoming. The total population is quite small for a Chinese region: around 25 million people live there.
The capital is Hohhot. Other cities, such as Chifeng and Hongliao count a bigger population (3 to 4 million each). Some famous cities of the area are Ordos and Hulunbuir.

Excluding Hong Kong and Macau, the richest economy of China?

Inner Mongolia has all the characteristics of a very underdeveloped area: it is an autonomous region, on the border, vast but with a small population and with a very hostile climate. There is also a lot to do about the infrastructure as well.
And yet the economy of Inner Mongolia is pretty good. Its GDP per capita in 2015 was the highest after Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin municipalities (and Hong Kong and Macau SAR), and it is not exactly a fair comparison. All of them, after all, are urban areas with a small territory.
But how is that possible?
Inner Mongolia’s territory has an extremely high amount of natural resources. The locals are able to get a quarter of the whole planet’s coal. There are also profitable resources such as rare earths, natural gas, cashmere and the biggest reserves of zirconium, beryllium and niobium of China.

The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan, in Ordos, Inner Mongolia
The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan, in Ordos, Inner Mongolia.

The industry is, of course, on energy production (including wind: the potential for wind-based energy production is the biggest in China) and metalworks.
Baotou, Erenhot and Hohhot have their own special zones. These areas promote hi-tech development, export processing and economic cooperation with Mongolia.

The heritage of Genghis Khan and Yuan dynasty

Inner Mongolia is a cradle of different cultures and languages.
Interestingly, like in Mongolia, Genghis Khan is considered a positive figure, present even in local religion. Genghis Khan, who once conquered China alongside his grandson Kublai Khan, killed millions of Chinese during their invasions.
Nevertheless, Genghis is still remembered as the original founder of the Yuan dynasty. For this reasons, he is part of both Chinese and Mongolian heritage.
There is also a Mausoleum of Genghis Khan, in Ordos, although it does not contain the original body, that has never been found.
Inner Mongolia is also famous for its importance for space missions.
Many Chinese space teams and their equipment landed right there.

Inner Mongolia is a difficult area for the tertiary sector, and this makes a weakness out of its major strength: natural resources.
One day the natural resources of the area will be spent. That day, what will drive the economy of Inner Mongolia?
Considering the size of the territory and the relatively small population, though, that day is still very, very far.

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