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Sprawling Chinese municipality gears up for big time

08-01-2011 14:59 BJT

CHONGQING, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- Shichuan, a town of 20,000 people in China's southwestern Chongqing Municipality, has taken pride in being a year-around producer fruits, and now it is expecting a new specialty -- helicopters.

Chongqing planners have decided to raze fruit plantations and farmlands to build a multi-million-dollar aviation industrial park in Shichuan and neighboring towns.

As grape ripened in mid-July, Huang Feng, an official of the township government, said local residents would not regret the move. "Chongqing is undergoing profound changes," she said.

Nearby, day-trippers from Chongqing's urban center were asking the price of what might be the last batch of "Giant Peak No.1," a signature grape of Shichuan.

In a fast-changing mega-city like Chongqing, nostalgia may be the last thing people need and a town's sudden transformation from agriculture to aviation is not beyond imagination.

Home to more than 32 million people and covering a territory the size of Austria and the Czech Republic, Chongqing is in the midst of a building boom. The area's urban sprawl is massive even by Chinese standards.

Thousands of cranes work day and night to redefine the skyline and bulldozers push the city limits outwards at an unparalleled speed. On an average day, builders lay more than 100,000 square meters of new floor space and 1,300 rural residents flock into the city proper.

"In less than a couple of years, millions of people will move to this area," said Deng Wei, an official of Chongqing's Yubei District, where Shichuan is located. He pointed toward an empty eight-lane boulevard near Shichuan, which was flanked by newly transplanted ginkgo trees and thousands of acres of rubble.

Located in a mountainous region on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, Chongqing saw its development lag behind the eastern coastal region. In 1997, the city was detached from Sichuan Province and made a centrally controlled municipality in a bid to propel the growth of western China. Its GDP quadrupled in the next dozen years.

The port city now has even more impetus for growth. In June 2010, Chongqing launched a state-level district called the "Liangjiang New Area" in the northern part of the metropolitan area. It is the third such state-level district after those in Shanghai and Tianjin.

Big-thinking municipal authorities soon outlined plans to build a financial business center, a free-trade zone and several mega projects in the district, each with an expected output of hundreds of billions of dollars.

In a government display room, a model of the district gives a bird's-eye view of what the planners envision. Clusters of buildings occupy nearly every piece of empty land in the new area, which is divided into dozens of functional areas. The aviation center in Shichuan sits among ridges in the northeast corner, next to a sports park and a Sino-Korean investment zone.

A launch ceremony for one of the projects a year ago offered a clue to the authorities' grand aspirations. "Before the ceremony, we couldn't find a proper piece of land for this occasion," Deng said. "So we sent hundreds of bulldozers to work. In a couple of days, we managed to level a hill to get this flat land. It was as if we were battling against nature."

To attract businesses, Chongqing offers a corporate income tax rate of 15 percent, in comparison with 25 percent nationally, through 2020 as well as favorable arrangements for land use. The municipal government will also invest 10 billion yuan (1.47 billion U.S. dollars) on infrastructure and promised loan support and market access.

This has lured some international names to the city including Dell and Acer and sent Mayor Huang Qifan from one signing ceremony to another over the past year.

"The competition between regions often depends on that between companies. A region's prosperity relies heavily on the quality and quantity of companies," Huang said after one ceremony.

A city once better known for its inclined roads and misty sky, mah-jongg and hot-pot, Chongqing is quickly changing its reputation. It is playing a much bigger role in China's development, as the country seeks to shift development inland, focus more on service industries and narrow the gap between rich and poor.

A front-page article in People's Daily compared Chongqing's current position to that of Shenzhen 30 years ago, Shanghai 20 years ago, and Tianjin 10 years ago. "Now it's time for the great book of China's reform and development to highlight the rise of the Liangjiang New Area in Chongqing," said the article.

"The Liangjiang New Area is full of energy and a pioneering spirit, which is reminiscent of Shanghai's Pudong 20 years ago," said China's top legislator Wu Bangguo after visiting Chongqing in April this year. His words were highlighted in an official pamphlet that tells investors repeatedly "not to miss the opportunities in Chongqing."

"I was lured to the city by the craze of development," said Li Dexing, executive vice president of Chongqing Guangdeli Precision Electronics, a supplier for IT manufacturers such as Foxconn and Wistron. Li's company, headquartered in Shanghai, moved to Chongqing in April 2010.

"For the past year, the government was busy preparing industrial land for us. They dynamited several small hillocks and changed the course of a creek," said the Shanghai native.

Hungry for industrial land, Chongqing will need to relocate 380,000 rural residents, an often painful aspect of China's massive urbanization drive. To appease these people, the government has offered them urban residency permits and low-rent apartments in the city proper.

In Shichuan, township government has closed relocation deals with 3,200 households since the beginning of the year.

"It was not easy to negotiate relocation," said Shichuan government head Wei Xiaodong. "When I visited rural households, it was the Lunar New Year period. Bacon and sausages were hung outside. It was bad timing for such a topic."

"Deep down, rural Chinese still cling to their home, as one can see from the mass human movement during the Lunar New Year," Wei said. "In the country's modernization process, ordinary Chinese are paying a huge cost."

Many of the 3,200 households in Shichuan who have given up their land will resettle in the city proper. Families who planted fruit for decades will live in a model community for newcomers, near an outlet shopping mall and a light-rail system, which will be launched soon.

On their way from rural homes to city apartments, they will see colorful government billboards along the highway. One of them features a smiling farmer under the words: "I finally am a city resident."

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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