Hainan province is considering compulsory sales as a means to dispose of its huge stock of vacant real estate, according to vice-governor Wang Haohong. Five years after Beijing started an austerity campaign to end the nation's property bubble, Haikou, Hainan's capital, has six million square metres of empty apartments, offices and villas. While most important cities in the mainland have a large stock of such empty commercial property, Haikou has the biggest in proportion to its size, a population of only 500,000 long-term residents. Mr Wang said it would take several years to dispose of all these properties so the government was considering new methods of how to do this, including lowering the price. This could include compulsory sales, while protecting the interests of the developer, he said without giving details. Concrete measures were still being discussed. Mr Wang appealed for buyers, saying Haikou offered a more pleasant urban environment than any other city in China, with clean air and water and a tropical climate, with a resultant life span of 73.13 years - three years longer than the national average. The attractive urban landscape, full of coconut trees and next to the sea, is marred by giant concrete skeletons of half-finished buildings, some as high as 10 storeys. Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has promised to make housing one of the engines of economic growth this year and to make it easier for people to buy their own homes, through increased provision of bank credit. But in many cities, the gap between the average family's income and the price of commercial apartments remains too wide to be bridged by an affordable loan. In Haikou, the gap is especially wide, with the average income last year of 5,434 yuan (about HK$5,060). According to official figures, 22.47 billion yuan was invested in property in Hainan from 1988 to the end of last year. One banker in Haikou said without extraordinary measures, it would take 30 years to sell the city's stock of empty property. 'With Zhu as premier, I expect compulsory sales here and in other cities, with the price set by the government and banks directed to provide financing,' he said. 'That is Zhu's style, to take drastic steps to address a problem. Of course, the price will be lower than the market price.' Potential buyers will include not only local residents but people from outside the island.