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China's leaders look to Tianjin for economic utopia
enorth.com.cn   2007-10-09 15:48


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"English-speaking and ambitious, high-ranking officials are remoulding the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin in the hope of creating a new path for the nation's economic development."


TIANJIN, China (AFP) — English-speaking and ambitious, high-ranking officials are remoulding the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin in the hope of creating a new path for the nation's economic development.

Their dream is a future where the factories are high-tech, the workforce educated, and the environment unscathed.

"We face the responsibility of creating a model that won't cost too much, whether in money terms or in environmental sacrifice," said Ni Xiangyu, vice chairman of the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, or TEDA.

"It's a new model for northern China's heavy industrial areas, and for western China," he said, referring to the two regions lagging behind the booming east coast.

At its five-yearly Congress starting on Monday, China's Communist Party leaders will chart the course for the world's fourth largest economy until 2012.

The concepts being tried in Tianjin -- home city of Premier Wen Jiabao and just 90 minutes' drive from Beijing -- are widely seen as a test-run in the regime's efforts to curb the excesses of decades of breakneck economic growth.

At the Congress, President Hu Jintao is expected to have his ideology of "scientific development" incorporated into the party's charter.

This, and his campaign to build a "harmonious society," aim to address the the widening divide in China between rich and poor, city and countryside, east and west.

These concepts also intend to ensure the environment is protected as the nation develops.

Efforts in the first five years of Hu's reign have been regarded as patchy, with the wealth divide growing and the environmental crisis worsening.

"Life remains difficult for many low-income people," Premier Wen Jiabao said in his annual "state of the union" address to parliament in March.

"The pattern of economic growth is inefficient. This can be seen most clearly in excessive energy consumption and serious environmental pollution," he said in the same address.

But although pollution is still a problem in Tianjin, a city of nearly 11 million people on the Bohai Bay, it is possible to get a feel of what China's leaders are aiming for.

Officials here are brimming with optimism when they talk about the synergies that will emerge when Tianjin is linked with the capital by a hyper-modern high-speed rail connection that will shorten the travel time to 30 minutes.

Together, with their many universities, the two cities have one of the world's biggest concentrations of brain power, Ni, the vice chairman of TEDA, explained enthusiastically.

By 2010, the two cities may produce a quarter of the nation's vehicles, and Tianjin could be the home of "a space shuttle manufacturing park," he said.

Already, Airbus is building its first assembly plant outside Europe in Tianjin.

TEDA, whose economy increased by 28.8 percent last year, is now part of the Tianjin Binhai New Area, an even larger zone.

Nevertheless, amid the expansionist fever, officials said they would not budge on environmental or industrial safety standards.

"We always bargain with businesspeople over land prices or tax holidays. But with standards -- no bargain," said Ni.

"My team sometimes feels a bit uncomfortable about this but I think it will be very beneficial for the coming generations."

Companies in the area confirmed the relatively strict enforcement of environmental standards, among them Novozymes, a Danish producer of enzymes.

"TEDA is very concerned about the environment. They ask all investors to comply with discharge parameters. They'll only allow investors if they can accept the discharge standards," said Lin Jishang, a director with Novozymes.

Hua Min, an economics professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, said using Tianjin as an example for others to follow was a sign of the times.

When China first opened up to foreign investment in the late 1970s, anyone with money was let in. In future, Beijing wants local policy makers to consider costs such as damage to the environment before giving the green light to companies.

"The Tianjin model will be gradually rolled out to areas across the country if it proves to be successful," he said. "It shows China's opening-up will be more selective in the future."


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Editor: Zhang Jialu

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