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China economy

‘Hawaii of China’ dumps GDP targets to save its tropical beaches

Hainan authorities under fire for ‘destroying the ecology for the sake of money’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 11:20pm

Tropical Chinese island Hainan has scrapped GDP and investment targets for many parts of the province, days after it was criticised by Beijing for being lax on the environment.

Hainan, which some refer to as the Hawaii of China, has seen rapid development along its coastline in recent years – so much so that environment ministry inspectors concluded it was “destroying the ecology for the sake of money” and “tailoring government plans for property developers”, Xinhua reported.

As a result, the provincial authorities have decided to shift priority from economic expansion to the environment. Twelve of the island’s 19 regions will dump targets for gross domestic product, industrial value and fixed-asset investment so that local officials can focus on protecting its beaches and tropical rainforest instead of trying to woo investors, according to the Xinhua report on Monday.

And if a project on the island does run into environmental problems, the authorities say the environment will win, and the development will not go ahead.

China ranks provinces, cities on efforts to clean up environment

Hainan is the latest province making changes to targets as President Xi Jinping continues to downplay the importance of headline growth in favour of a shift in focus to the environment and fairness.

At the annual economic work conference last week, Xi told cadres to focus on risk control, environment protection and poverty alleviation.

Located in the South China Sea, Hainan is about half the size of Sri Lanka and has a population of 9 million. Known for its beaches and mountains, the island is a favourite with mainland Chinese tourists over winter.

But the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a report released last week that inspectors had found serious breaches of environment standards on the island. Local authorities including the provincial ocean and fisheries bureau and the municipal government of tourist hotspot Sanya were found to have neglected their duties in looking after the environment, according to the report carried by Xinhua.

It also found rampant irregularities that caused severe damage to the coastline ecosystem, and said local authorities had colluded with property developers to carry out illegal land reclamation.

In one example, man-made Phoenix Island became a destination for property and resort projects instead of an international cruise port as planned.

And of the 10 conservation areas protected at state level on the island, eight were found to have unapproved tourism projects.

Meanwhile, there are no conservation or management measures in place for the Sanya Coral Reef National Nature Reserve, a major tourist attraction.

Something’s in the air as environment becomes new battleground for China’s cadres

Adding to the problems, the inspectors found the island’s sewerage systems were inadequate to cope with all the property projects being built and the team had “been inundated with complaints from the public” about waste and rubbish being discharged directly into rivers or the sea.

The inspectors’ findings were made public after being cleared by the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the State Council, Xinhua reported.

Beijing has given the island province 30 working days to come up with a plan to address the problems and release that plan – and later, the results – to the public.

The Chinese government has become increasingly serious about dealing with the country’s notorious pollution problems since Xi came to power five years ago. Thousands of local government officials have been questioned, demoted and sacked for failing to look after the environment. In Hainan, the ministry’s inspection team sent details of 2,358 cases to the local authorities to be fixed, 49 people have been detained over breaches of environment standards, and 291 officials have been “held accountable”.

Earlier this year, the State Oceanic Administration ordered a halt to construction of an airport on an artificial island off the coast of Sanya because of environmental concerns.

Venturing into the interior of Hainan Island means trekking in the rainforest and up the peaks