Chinese cities are ahead of key U.S. cities in the 2019 Global Cities Index compiled by A.T. Kearney. In the latest ranking, Hong Kong is ahead of Los Angeles, Shanghai has topped San Francisco, and in the battle of capitals, Beijing is placed higher than Washington D.C.

While New York, London and Paris have maintained their decade-long dominance as the top three cities in the Global Cities Index, Hong Kong (5), Beijing (9) and Shanghai (19) have retained their 2018 rankings in the Top 25. According to A.T. Kearney analysts, China’s urban areas have continued to improve their liveability and become more citizen-centric, as they close in on the world’s leading cities, especially Western power centres.

The Global Cities Index lists 130 cities including 27 Chinese cities. Eleven Chinese cities have made it to the top 100 in the Index.

Though Chinese cities continue to maintain their momentum in the Index, mostly attributed to business activity, A.T. Kearney warns that these cities will need to transition towards a citizen-centric development strategy that prioritises healthy populations and happy people if they want to stay competitive on the global platform.

Greater diversity is one way Chinese cities can improve their rankings, says the A.T. Kearney report, especially in sexual orientation, as it would improve their reputation for inclusiveness.

While business activity remains the largest contributor to the Index scores, Chinese cities have made significant progress in human capital and information exchange, which has improved their overall rankings. For example, Suzhou jumps 20 spots in the Index, thanks to a growing population of foreign students.

Welcoming highly skilled foreign workers is another way China can improve their diversity. This would also help Chinese cities address their talent deficit problem.

China’s urbanisation rate rose from 18 percent in 1978 to 60 percent in 2018, which saw the country’s urban population growing from 170 million to 830 million. However, this urban evolution happened in two phases. While the period from 1978 to 2010 was focused on scale-oriented development with city governments pursuing rapid expansion, an increased population, and economic output to build up urban areas, the years from 2011 to the present saw Chinese cities shifting to quality-oriented development, contributing to their ascent in the Global Cities Index ranking.

The next phase of transformation is expected to be more citizen-focused, which means building a sustainable population structure at a macro level and improving the well-being of citizens at a micro level. Macro level goals include supporting and stabilising the population structure, empowering and utilising the aging workforce, attracting and retaining talent, and enabling human-AI coexistence. At the micro level, key objectives include creating liveable, affordable cities, cultivating job opportunities, encouraging civic participation, and supporting diversity and inclusion.