Beijing unveils plan to raise living standards

By David Hsieh, The Straits Times, 8 December 2000

City aims to be like Shanghai and Guangdong with greener environment, cleaner air, bigger homes and wealthier people

BEIJING will be greener and its air, much cleaner. The people, meanwhile, will be wealthier and also live longer after 2010.

This is if the people behind an ambitious plan to lift the capital's standard of living over the next five to 10 years can deliver on their promises.

The plan is the most ambitious one yet from the historic city. It aims to make itself as amenable for living as other cities such as Shanghai and Guangdong.

One year on the drawing board now, the Draft Outline for the Tenth Five-Year Plan for Beijing's Economy and Social Development outlines the city's goals over the next 10 years.

It also lists its priorities from 2001-2005.

The proposals will be submitted for discussion at the fourth session of the city's 11th legislative congress, to be held in February.

The plan anticipates Beijing to achieve basic modernisation, with many people enjoying their first taste of affluence.

The benchmark of basic modernisation is defined as per capita GDP of US$6,000-US$7,000 (S$10,440-S$12,180).

This is 2.5 to 3 times the level in 1999.

It approaches the current level for Uruguay, which is placed 49th in the world this year.

By 2005, unemployment will be capped at 2 per cent for the estimated 11.6 million registered residents here.

Per capita disposable income is also expected to climb by 6 per cent a year thereafter and residents will own bigger homes, averaging 18 sq m per person.

In 10 years time, over half of the city's children will have the chance of a college education and one in five people will own a computer.

Beijing residents will also live two years longer than now. The average life expentancy in 1999 was 74.33 years.

The city's dreadful air pollution should ease within five years, said Mr Lin Xiangyang, chief of the Economic Section of the Beijing Municipal Committee.

The city has grades for air quality, with Level 1 being the best, and he predicted that Beijing's inner city, will achieve Level 2 in half a year as there will be stringent rules to cut down automobile emissions.

This will be a far cry from the grim Level 3 registered for the first 10 months of this year.

Within a few years, the city's green space will expand from 36 to 40 per cent and vegetation coverage, from 43 to 48 per cent.

This will be due, in large part, to the effort to build 267,000 hectares of new green belts to stop desertification from creeping in from the north-west.

On the urban side of these green belts, 100 scenic parks and environmentally friendly industrial estates will spring up to encircle the inner city.

To revamp the urban landscape over the next five years, the city will demolish shabby old hutong houses in its southern districts. Hutong are clusters of houses criss-crossed by narrow lanes.

In their place will be new residential and commercial districts. While specific plans are still being formulated, pilot projects will begin in three districts soon.