Mayor predicts all will go to plan on a day to remember

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 October, 2009, 12:00am

The capital is ready for the most lavish and spectacular celebrations for the nation's birthday today, says Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong.

Months of preparations for the grandiose celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule, including a military parade in the morning and the world's biggest-ever fireworks display tonight, have wrapped up fairly smoothly.

'It's time to say we are ready,' Guo said in a rare interview, with the South China Morning Post.

Authorities have gone all-out to ensure the success of the events, including at least three parade rehearsals, a citywide security lockdown and sweeping traffic bans.

'Weather remains a top concern, and hopefully, we will have a rain-free day,' Guo said.

While the celebrations this year may be 'a little bit more' extravagant than those in previous years, it was largely because the National Day parade was held once in a decade, according to the mayor.

Most of the municipality's 20 million residents will watch the dazzling one-day party at home on television because of security concerns.

Although it is called the People's Parade, only about 200,000 participants and thousands of spectators the government pre-selected to line Changan Avenue will witness the historic moment.

It was simply impossible to invite millions of residents to the festivities at Tiananmen Square, Guo said.

'Traditions vary in different countries ... the parade will be held in a limited space, and it's been our tradition to have certain restrictions [on public participation] in previous parades,' the mayor said.

'I don't think it's fair to say we've imposed stricter restrictions this year because of the grand celebrations. We simply follow traditional precedents.'

The mayor also dodged a question about whether the government planned to unveil details of the spending on the parade as it did with an auditors' inspection after the Olympics.

Guo, 62, a native of Nanjing , Jiangsu province , took over the post in 2007 from Wang Qishan , who was later elevated to vice-premier.

A physicist-turned technocrat, he served in Tibet as a leading party official for 11 years from 1993. He was Tibet's party boss from 2000 to 2004, and later became the party chief of Anhui .

He was considered a prot?g? of President Hu Jintao due to his long stint in the Tibetan plateau, one of the toughest jobs for any Han Chinese official, where Hu worked as party boss from 1988 to 1992.

His arrival in the capital came as Beijing stepped up its final preparations for the Olympics last year.

Although he has been the mayor for almost two years, Guo has kept a low profile and said he did not want to take credit for the city's makeover in the run-up to the Olympics.

'I have not been here long enough,' he said. 'For me, it's quite a transition from dealing with party affairs to the head of the government.'

He appeared more confident when talking about his government's accomplishments in the past year.

Citing official statistics, he said the capital fared well despite challenges posed by a post-Olympic economic slowdown and the global financial crisis that followed.

'I'm very pleased to tell you that questions over the city's post-Olympic economy have seldom been raised recently because we have already solved the problem,' he said.

And hosting the Olympics contributed to the solution and also significantly increased the city's international profile. 'We attach great importance to sustainable development and make tremendous efforts to maintain a high economic growth rate while changing our growth model [of pollution first and clean-up later],' he said.

The city's gross domestic product in the first six months reached 530.8 billion yuan (HK$603.4 billion), up 7.8 per cent. 'We are confident that the GDP growth for the year will hit 9 per cent,' he said.

Foreign investment in the city has surged, and household income in both urban and rural areas has risen.

Tourism has shown signs of recovery since May, with the Olympic venues becoming new attractions for visitors from around the world, the mayor said.

He said the number of foreign tourists had increased but did not give specifics.

Visitors have to wait in ever-growing queues to get into and snap a shot of the landmark 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium and the 'Water Cube' National Aquatics Centre.

Measures to boost domestic demand have also seen results. Private car ownership has soared this year, with about 100,000 cars sold every week in recent months. Guo mentioned the upside and the downside.

'I am pleased to see a robust car market, but as the mayor of such a big city, I have to say it is also quite a headache for me because of mounting traffic pressure,' he said.

The number of registered vehicles, mostly private cars, hit 3.7 million in August and is likely to reach 4 million soon, the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau said.

Despite a decade-long spending spree to improve public transport, mainly the Metro subway system, the city has to rely on daily traffic restrictions on private cars, an unexpected legacy of the Olympics, to ease gridlock.

But Guo promised that the city would not consider introducing a cap on private cars anytime soon.

'There are lots of discussions about the issue, but we can't afford to roll out a policy to restrict car sales simply due to traffic pressure, which would hurt the city's car manufacturing industry,' he said.

Instead, the city planned to spend more to expand roads and Metro and rail lines.

Beijing just opened a 28-kilometre Metro line, No4, in the past week.

It links the city's 'Silicon Valley' with the new South Station, Asia's largest in terms of passenger capacity. Twelve more lines are under construction, and by 2015, the total distance of the city's Metro lines will be 561 kilometres, making it one of the world's largest metro systems. The cost per kilometre is about 500 million yuan.

Apart from ever increasing spending on infrastructure, Guo also admitted the city has a lot to learn from the big cities of the world, especially Hong Kong, about how to improve its much-criticised traffic management skills.

'Hong Kong has a lot of good experience in terms of urban traffic control,' he said. 'We should increase exchanges and expand our co-operation.'

When asked about Beijing's pollution, which plagued preparations for the Olympics, the mayor seemed pleased about improved air quality.

He talked fondly about the crystal-clear skies and the incredible visibility that was once a dream for local residents but has become part of their everyday lives in the past year.

Shutting down energy-intensive and polluting factories, including coal, concrete and steel plants, and moving them out of Beijing seemed to have worked well to clear the city's smoggy air, according to the mayor.

Guo dismissed concerns that funds for tackling persistent smog would dwindle after the Olympics as international media attention subsided.

'In fact, our spending on environmental protection has increased in the past year,' he said.

Apart from tackling air pollution, authorities would also seek to clean up the city's dirty and often smelly rivers in the coming years, he said.