Xion­gan is go­ing green with gusto

Pro­posed mod­ern eco­nomic hub makes progress, but winds of change rat­tle some lo­cal com­pa­nies

China Daily European Weekly - - Front Page - By WANG YANFEI in Xion­gan, He­bei wangyan­fei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

It has been one year since the na­tion an­nounced its plan to de­velop the Xion­gan New Area into a demonstration hub for in­no­va­tive devel­op­ment, and small lo­cal com­pa­nies, which are of­ten ma­jor pol­luters, are quick­en­ing the pace of go­ing green in or­der to meet strict en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

On April 1 last year, when Liu Jian­hong, pres­i­dent of Xueruisha Feather and Down Prod­uct Co, which makes win­ter wear like down jack­ets, heard the news about Xion­gan, he had no idea whether the plan might af­fect his com­pany.

The com­pany is in Dazhangzhuang, a vil­lage in Anxin county of Baod­ing, a less-de­vel­oped re­gion in cen­tral He­bei prov­ince.

He got some ini­tial idea of what the re­gion would be like from the news.

Ac­cord­ing to an ear­lier re­port by Xinhua News Agency, the Xion­gan New Area will have a global per­spec­tive and con­form with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, mak­ing it a na­tional model for high-qual­ity devel­op­ment.

Lo­cated around 100 kilo­me­ters south­west of Bei­jing, the new area will ini­tially cover 100 square km and later cover Xiongx­ian, Rongcheng and Anxin coun­ties in He­bei prov­ince, even­tu­ally tak­ing up 2,000 sq km.

Liu found that his com­pany was lo­cated at the very cen­ter of the Xion­gan New Area. “It was some­thing like hit­ting a jack­pot,” he said. “Some­thing big is go­ing to hap­pen here, bring­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

He thought the in­flux of more new res­i­dents into the re­gion might in­crease his com­pany’s sales, but later found that an im­me­di­ate chal­lenge was to adapt to stricter en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment has put pro­tec­tion of the lo­cal eco­log­i­cal sys­tem high on its agenda.

For the past sev­eral decades, the down and feather in­dus­try has been piv­otal to lo­cal eco­nomic growth. Lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers of down cloth­ing could eas­ily get raw ma­te­ri­als. For ex­am­ple, the source for the soft layer of duck feath­ers was the nearby Baiyang­dian wet­land, a re­gion that is home to more than 140 lakes.

Vil­lagers ei­ther started busi­nesses at home, worked for lo­cal fac­to­ries or set up small com­pa­nies to pro­duce down prod­ucts. But sewage gen­er­ated dur­ing the process was dumped di­rectly into the wet­land, dam­ag­ing the eco­log­i­cal sys­tem.

There were 68 small com­pa­nies and fam­i­ly­owned work­shops in the vil­lage, but half of them had to shut down be­cause they failed to meet the new en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards by the end of last year.

The re­main­ing 34 fac­to­ries were asked to cut pro­duc­tion time by half to re­duce pol­lu­tion — mainly the sewage flow­ing into Baiyang­dian’s lakes.

“Lo­cal gov­ern­ments have tight­ened en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions since last year,” says Chen Yue, a vil­lager who closed his fam­i­ly­owned down pro­duc­tion work­shop last year. “Of­fi­cials con­ducted ran­dom in­spec­tions, and no one dared to restart fac­to­ries that had to be shut­tered.

“Any com­pany that failed to meet the en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards or failed to get a li­cense for op­er­a­tions had to shut down. There are no other op­tions. The low-end man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor won’t be al­lowed to con­tinue.”

It will not be an easy task for lo­cal peo­ple to find a new eco­nomic driver in the short run, ex­perts say, since the whole prov­ince has long re­lied on re­source-de­pen­dent in­dus­tries, fall­ing be­hind other com­pa­ra­ble re­gions.

Last year, the ter­tiary sec­tor ac­counted for 41.7 per­cent of the to­tal eco­nomic out­put in He­bei prov­ince, around 10 per­cent­age points lower than the na­tional av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data.

The in­di­ca­tor was way lower than that of Tian­jin and Bei­jing.

“Mov­ing away from tra­di­tional highly pol­luted in­dus­tries will be a painful process for en­ter­prises, and yet it is an ir­re­versible trend,” says Chen Jian, vice-pres­i­dent of the China So­ci­ety of Eco­nomic Re­form.

Liu’s com­pany is one of the re­main­ing busi­nesses that took timely steps to re­make them­selves so as not to vi­o­late the en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards and thus stand a bet­ter chance of re­main­ing com­pet­i­tive in the new sit­u­a­tion.

He moved pro­duc­tion lines to another base in Linyi, Shan­dong prov­ince, that he es­tab­lished in 2010.

The re­lo­ca­tion will also help to avoid the ris­ing la­bor costs in Xion­gan, which have al­most dou­bled since last year, Liu says.

He plans to ren­o­vate the fac­tory and turn it into a ho­tel for young tal­ent seek­ing work in the area.

Part of the space will be turned into a mu­seum to keep alive mem­o­ries of Anxin county, he adds.

ZHOU GUOQIANG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Con­struc­tion of the Xion­gan Cit­i­zen Ser­vice Cen­ter is pro­gress­ing briskly near Bei­jing.

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