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Ecology trumps economy in NE China border towns

07-02-2010 14:56 BJT

Northwestern Heilongjiang Province's Yichun used to pride itself over the 240 million cubic meters of trees its lumberjacks chopped down over the past six decades to fuel China's construction drive.

That is about 230 times the volume of the 102-story skyscraper Empire State Building in New York.

But now the city, which faces Russia just across the Heilongjiang River, is pinning its hope on making use of its forests in a different and sustainable way.

"Our future lies in eco-friendly tourism and renewable energy industries such as wind power and hydropower," said Yichun's party chief Xu Zhaojun.

"We will never, ever again exploit the forest resources, no matter what difficult situation we are in," he said.

Dubbed the "capital of forest" in China and "home to the Korean pines," Yichun now administers three million hectares of forest among the Lesser Hinggan Mountains.

The Great and Lesser Hinggan Mountains are China's largest reserves of natural forests and occupy 5.6 percent of the country's forest area, which once stood at about 11 million hectares.

However, after 60 years of intensive lumbering, the amount of workable forest reserves in the area dropped from 780 million cubic meters to 66 million cubic meters in 2007, according to statistics released by the Forestry Department of Heilongjiang Province.

Yichun boasted about one million hectares of Korean pine six decades ago. However, this figure had been sharply reduced to only 50,000 hectares in 2003.

"We owe too much in the past to nature," Xu said, "So we are now learning to bow our heads before it."

The 55-year-old party chief said Yichun rejected investment offers totaling 40 billion yuan (about 5.9 billion U.S. dollars) over the past six years due to concerns over pollution and possible damage to Yichun's ecological system.

The city's fiscal revenue last year was only 1.4 billion yuan.

"We accept only 'zero emission' enterprises," Xu said, "Turning down polluting ones won't cost us anything, but will bring us more benefits in the future."

He said Yichun had closed all polluting enterprises in recent years and, as a result, the city's air quality has reported reaching 361 grade I and grade II days last year.

Yichun is not the only city where the environment is weighed in favor against economic development.

Jia Wei, deputy director of the Dandong Border Economic Cooperation Zone, also said the city, which faces the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s Sinuiju city across the Yalu River, would have zero tolerance for hosting businesses that pollute the environment.

"In the past, we have often sacrificed the environment for economic gains and people's lives. That is not going to happen again now," Jia said.

"In the 1990s, many sea birds in Dandong lost their homes during our reclamation projects," he said, "I surely hope they could one day come back to Dandong."

Editor:Xiong Qu |Source: Xinhua

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