City in North­east China re­turns to GDP growth as it changes strat­egy

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By ZHENG JINRAN in Yichun, Hei­long jiang zhengjin­gran@ chi­

When Yichun, a bor­der city in Hei­long jiang prov­ince, banned log­ging in 2013, it lost a strong eco­nomic en­gine. But it forged ahead with green growth, eco­tourism and bet­ter use of the byprod­ucts of its forests.

“We’ve changed our minds and are uti­liz­ing our nat­u­ral re­sources,” said Han Ku, the city’s mayor. “Our green re­sources and beau­ti­ful na­ture — the forests, moun­tains and rivers — have be­come the driv­ers of sus­tain­able growth.”

Since 1958, when the city was es­tab­lished, Yichun has pro­vided China with about 10 per­cent of the tim­ber used in con­struc­tion, 270 mil­lion cu­bic me­ters in all, mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the na­tion’s growth, ac­cord­ing to the city gov­ern­ment.

Yet the ex­ces­sive de­for­esta­tion that oc­curred over the decades dragged the econ­omy down in the 1990s.

“We were in a se­vere cri­sis, and many peo­ple had to leave the city for work,” Han said. The pop­u­la­tion fell from around 1.3 mil­lion at the time to 1.21 mil­lion to­day.

In 2010, the city banned the cut­ting of a pro­tected species com­monly known as Korean pine. In 2013 it banned the com­mer­cial use of any tim­ber ob­tained from nat­u­ral forests, two years ahead of the rest in China.

The moves gave the forests time to re­cover, with the cov­er­age grow­ing slightly from 83.9 per­cent of the city’s area in 2013 to 84.4 per­cent last year. Yet it also cut eco­nomic growth, which was fu­eled by tim­ber sales. “That pushed us to find a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion,” the mayor said.

Since then, Yichun has ex­plored other av­enues re­lated to forestry, such as de­vel­op­ing tourism based on its beau­ti­ful scenery, for­est foods like pine nuts and blue­ber­ries, as well as the plant­ing and pro­cess­ing of tra­di­tional medic­i­nal herbs.

In ad­di­tion, the in­dus­tries the city de­vel­oped are also en­vi­ron­ment friendly, Han said. “No pol­lut­ing com­pa­nies are al­lowed to pro­duce, and the ex­ist­ing com­pa­nies — in­clud­ing mines — meet the stan­dards for waste dis­charge.”

Af­ter work­ing in this di­rec­tion for years, the city has fi­nally seen tourism boom in the first half of this year. More than 4.45 mil­lion tourists came to the forestry city and spent more than 357 mil­lion yuan ($53 mil­lion), an in­crease of 30.4 per­cent yearon-year, ac­cord­ing to the Hei­longjiang Bureau of Sta­tis­tics.

GDP from the ser­vice sec­tor now ac­counts for about 40 per­cent of the econ­omy, be­com­ing the ma­jor pil­lar of Yichun’s econ­omy. The city saw its GDP be­gin to re­cover in 2016 af­ter years of shrink­ing.

In 2014, GDP growth plum­meted 9.4 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year. The slide con­tin­ued in 2015, to 2.7 per­cent. But in 2016, GDP grew by 1 per­cent, and then strength­ened. In the first quar­ter of this year, it grew by 4.8 per­cent, fol­lowed by 6.2 per­cent growth in the sec­ond quar­ter.

“The re­cov­ery proves that the path we chose is work­ing, and we plan to do more. In one to two years, we will be­come the new en­gine of Hei­long jiang,” Han said.

In China, many ci­ties with rich for­est re­sources thrived in the lum­ber in­dus­try but then slid back due to en­vi­ron­men­tal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.

“Among their eco­nomic re­struc­tur­ing op­tions, it’s a com­mon prac­tice to de­velop tourism, as Yichun has, to sus­tain eco­nomic growth and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment — a good choice,” said Wang Cheng, a re­searcher at the Forestry Re­search In­sti­tute.

But to sus­tain tourism over a long pe­riod, ci­ties need to de­velop their own unique fea­tures and di­ver­sify their forestry ser­vices, he said.

Han Ku

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