Date: Mon, 22 Mar 1999 22:45:25 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: ENVIRONMENT-CHINA: Hainan Island Shifts to Green Path
Article: 58422
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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/** ips.english: 571.0 **/
** Topic: ENVIRONMENT-CHINA: Hainan Island Shifts to Green Path **
** Written 3:05 PM Mar 21, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Hainan Island Shifts to Green Path

By Wu Qi, IPS, 18 March 1999

BEIJING, Mar 18 (IPS)—China may be debating how fast to march toward more market reforms, but the island province of Hainan has already decided that a slowdown in development is much more welcome than full-speed ecological decline.

At the National People's Congress (NPC) sessions that just finished, 14 delegates from Hainan put forward a motion to turn their lush tropical home into an ecological province.

The move comes a little more than a decade after Hainan, which is off the Leizhou Peninsula in the South China Sea, was declared a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Under the proposal, the island's transformation into an ecological haven will take place within 10 years.

Hainan officials say it signals a major policy shift from a focus on real estate and finance to the environment. They say they have now realised that the real wealth of Hainan lies in its natural beauty—which, unfortunately, has been ravaged by development in the past several years.

Since we have abundant natural resources, we'll stimulate our local economy by developing environmentally-sound agriculture and fisheries, says Yu Xun, a deputy governor of the province. Paying attention to nature should also ensure that we become a beautiful place that tourists will want to visit.

This switch toward ecological preservation is a reversal of our (previous) efforts, after noticing problems in our local economy from the early 1990s, he adds.

When Hainan became an SEZ in the late 1980s, real estate developers made a beeline for it, The sector spun out of control from island authorities in just a few years, and soon, buildings were being built haphazardly on once virgin land.

But the financial institutions that bankrolled these ventures paid dearly when the provincial development bank went bankrupt, freezing the capital of the many banks that had interest in it. With no new money to fuel further development, Hainan's economic growth rate plunged to a record low of 4.3 percent in 1995.

Meanwhile, land reclamation to farm fish and crabs was doing serious damage to the island's famous red forest cover. Once hugging Hainan's entire coastline, the red forest helped maintain the ecological balance between land and sea, protecting the shore from erosion.

Today, however, the leaves of the trees there have turned yellow. In some areas, the red forest has died out.

Excessive coral gathering by fisherfolk since the 1960s has also destroyed more than 80 percent of the region's fragile reefs. To date, more than 20,000 hectares of the island's 400 varieties of coral have disappeared.

Apart from acting as underwater barriers that weaken the massive breakers as they crash up the beach, coral reefs provide homes to fish and shrimps, and act as a filter to clean the water. They are a vital part of the shallow water ecology off the coast.

Hainan officials say the plan they submitted to the NPC aims to coordinate economic development with environmental protection. They say the speed with which the Chinese parliament approved their motion—in a record 10 days—indicates recognition of the urgency of their petition.

So far we've finished drafting the 'Programme of Building Hainan Into an Ecological Province with Sustainable Development', says Yu Xun. We'll submit it to the Provincial People's Congress for examination after the National People's Congress.

The programme's short-term targets include the expansion of Hainan's forest cover from the present 51 to 55 percent— the biggest in China—as well as curbing desertification.

It also aims to ensure that all industrial pollutants are within state limits, eradicate 'white pollution' or trash consisting of plastic bags, mineral water bottles and polystyrene trays, and ban the use of fluorine as refrigerant.

The programme is a crystallisation of what we call our cross- century 'green project,' which aims to curb the deterioration of the environment, says Yu.

Since last year, logging in Hainan's natural forests has been banned.

Says Chen Dongwei, director of the Provincial Land and Oean Resource Administration: We plan to expand the acreage of the province's windbreak forest, making it a coastal belt encircling the island. And we shall also build a greenbelt along the island's orbital expressway.

At Haikou, the provincial capital, city authorities say they will pour some 75 million yuan (9 million dollars) into the clean-up of the severely polluted Meishe River.

Hainan's honesty in admitting its mistakes seems to have impressed organisations such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Japanese business sector—all of which are said to be supportive of the island's policy shift.

But Hainan officials themselves admit that balancing tourism development with ecological preservation will not be easy.

Hainan has become particularly attractive to domestic tourists in the last few years. Despite the current economic crunch, the island played host to some 8.4 million visitors last year, up 8.2 percent from the 1997 figure.

Observers say the hordes of careless pleasure seekers have distributed to the decline of Hainan's ecology. With officials counting on attracting even more tourists once Hainan recovers its lost beauty, there is a need to come up with a plan that will be both tourist- and environment-friendly.

Still, Yu refuses to be pessimistic about the chances of salvaging what is left of Hainan's natural treasures, and perhaps even improving them. Says Yu: With domestic and international efforts, we are confident that we can make Hainan an ecological province.