DESPITE ambitious plans to nearly double the rate of highway construction in the years leading up to 2000, China will not have an efficient road system until at least 2020. Ministry of Communications chief engineer Yang Shengfu said yesterday that China's traffic problems were so severe that the nation could only hope to smooth out the worst of the congestion in the short-term. China plans to build another 170,000 kilometres of roads by 2000 at a cost of more than 200 billion yuan (about HK$180 billion), increasing the total highway system to 1.25 million kilometres. The project will entail building an average of 24,200 km of roads a year, up from an average of 13,000 km a year between 1978 and 1993. 'It will take about 30 years just to meet China's basic transportation needs,' said Mr Yang, who jointly presented a paper on highway construction in China with Highway Administration assistant director Li Daming at the Asia Roads and Highways '94 conference in Hong Kong yesterday. 'But because the number of cars is always increasing faster than the kilometres of roads [being laid], we'll never really catch up.' Mr Yang said the government was likely to introduce new taxes on petrol and tyres to increase revenue to be used for highway development. In addition, China would continue to seek foreign loans from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and bilateral loans from foreign governments. China had already used about US$2 billion in financing to build 7,000 km of highways. Mr Yang said the Chinese Government would also encourage foreign participation through joint-ventures and the build-operate-transfer system by offering preferential taxation and land development policies to investors.