Beijing demolition to curb population won't work, say opponents

Opponents say plan to destroy scrap markets won't stop migrants flocking to the capital

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 5:35am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 5:35am

Xie Zhongchao, a dealer at an open-air scrap market on the northern outskirts of Beijing, is at a loss when asked what he will do after the site is soon demolished.

"What have we done wrong to deserve this and who is going to recycle the tonnes of scrap?" asked Xie, pointing at piles of wood, used cartons and water bottles piled high at the site in Dongsanqi village.

Xie, who is in his early 30s, has lived in Beijing for more than 10 years and for the past three he has been selling scrap wood for recycling. But he will soon be out of a job as the market has been earmarked for demolition, along with several others in the capital, as part of a municipal government plan to rein in population growth.

One part of the scheme involves phasing out what are described as "low-end industries", such as waste recycling, that attract migrant workers to the city.

Speaking at the Beijing Municipal People's Congress, which began last Thursday, Beijing mayor Wang Anshun stressed the urgent need to control the capital's rising population.

This was on top of a pledge he made late last month to give population control top priority amid deteriorating pollution, worsening traffic congestion and water shortages.

The city's population grew by 32 per cent between 2000 and 2011 to 20.2 million. More than a third of residents are not registered under the Beijing hukou, or household registration scheme.

Beijing's vice-mayor, Chen Gang, said at the people's congress that the city would need to double in size to house its rising population if its development continued unchecked for another 10 years.

Apart from scrap markets, other wholesale and retail markets for groceries and construction materials have also been targeted by the municipal and district governments for closure.

The famed clothes wholesale market next to the Beijing Zoo in the Xicheng district will also go, although authorities have yet to give a date.

The party secretary in Fengtai, Li Chaogang, has said that in one area of his district there were 33 markets, employing 130,000 people, mainly migrant workers, The Beijing News reported. Each worker brought about five relatives to live in the capital, the report said.

Yi Peng , director of the Urbanisation Research Centre think tank, said targeting "low-end industries" and migrant workers would have a limited effect on the population because it would not stop people coming to the capital. There was little Beijing could do to control its population without further central government help, he added.

"The core issue is that people are coming to Beijing to access better public services than they have in other cities," Yi said. "Without addressing this inequality, Beijing will continue to see an influx of migrants in the long run."

Yi said the capital could ease population pressure in the short term by boosting the standard of living in many of its satellite towns by investing in their infrastructure and transport links.

Chen Liwen, a programme manager at Nature University, an environmental advocacy group in Beijing, said closing the scrap markets would be a disaster because they recycled 6,000 tonnes of waste from city streets every day.

She said rubbish on the mainland was mainly burned or sent to landfills, creating air pollution and damaging the soil.

"These people deserve better because, from a sustainability point of view, they do the work that governments fail to perform," Chen said.

Xie, the scrap dealer, said he was used to life in Beijing and there was no way he could make a living if he returned to his hometown in Henan province.

"If the market is closed, I might simply return to what I did before, selling vegetables at farmers markets or working at a construction site," he said.

"But leaving Beijing is the last thing on my mind, unless I'm forced to go."