Skirting the law is way of life for residents in Guangdong town

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 November, 2009, 12:00am

The latest anti-smuggling crackdown in Jieshi has been going on for three weeks.

As of late last month, officials in Lufeng city, which oversees Jieshi town, said they had detained 11 people and raided more than 500 workshops and warehouses. More than 300 tonnes of used clothing had been seized and burned, and officials warned the campaign would continue until the end of the year.

For residents of Jieshi, this kind of action is all to familiar. Over the past three decades, the town has developed a smuggling industry more than strong enough to withstand the seasonal attention from authorities eager to be seen to be acting tough. A Jieshi native, who gave only his surname Lin, said the smuggling tradition in the town began with watches three decades ago. But it was not until the 1990s that smuggled second-hand motorcycles put Jieshi on the map.

Lin said that to avoid customs checks, all used motorcycles were dismantled overseas and shipped to international ports nearby, such as Shenzhen, in pieces. The containers sent to Jieshi were full of various components, and local people would take care of the rest - reassembling engines, seats and so forth to build bikes that vendors from across the country would come to buy.

Lin, who is in his early 40s, left Jieshi in the mid-1990s to find work in the Pearl River Delta's factories. He added that more Jieshi people would be involved in smuggling if it were not for Shenzhen, 200km away.

Lufeng and Shanwei have had their chances to develop, but local residents blamed corrupt local officials for letting them go to waste, saying officials levied profitable enterprises with arbitrary fees, taxes and fines, which scared away investors.

A retired Lufeng official admitted that the whole area had squandered too many chances.

'Officials must change their mindset concerning the way they treat investors, or smuggling will not be rooted out,' he said.

The official witnessed the crackdown on the motorcycle smuggling racket in 1998, and warned fellow cadres that if the government did not create jobs, people would drift back to what they knew.

Official statistics show the Shanwei government revenues in 2007 were the lowest among all 21 Guangdong cities, even those in backward, mountainous areas.