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Environment in western region to be protected
By Wu Chong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-02-05 01:32

The environment of the nation's vast and economically underdeveloped western region will be protected forever as a new regulation is to be introduced by the end of the year, a senior official with the State Council's Office of the Leading Group for Western Region Development has revealed.

The new regulation will be the first comprehensive one of its kind for the region, which accounts for half of the nation's territory. The region's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is 65 per cent of the nation's average.

Wang Jinxiang, deputy director of the office, told China Daily the core of the regulation would be to ensure the ecosystems of the most precious parts of the region were protected during development.

"Such details like whether factories can be built or what kind of factories can be built in different areas will be included," Wang said on Friday.

A compensation mechanism for the use of resources may be included, he said.

The region is home to China's water sources and the largest power provider for the nation. However, it has 80 per cent of the nation's desertificated areas. And 70 per cent of China's most serious water and soil loss has occurred in the region.

In the Environmental Sustainability Index report, released last month in Switzerland, China was ranked 133rd among 142 countries.

Analysts say the countries towards the end of the list are short on natural resources or have poor management over their resources.

The protection of the ecosystems in several fragile locations, such as the areas cradling the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang-Mekong rivers, is a must for all levels of government, Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan reiterated on Friday during a meeting commemorating the fifth anniversary of the State's "Go-west" strategy.

Despite the problems in the western region, remarkable achievements have also been made in the past five years, thanks to the government's increasing financial assistance for ecological projects.

By the end of last year, local people had rehabilitated and cultivated land into forests, and planted about 11.3 million hectares of trees on barren land and mountains.

"The State will surely step up its support for the development of the western region in the future," noted Zeng.

This year will also see the issuing of a circular about human resource development in the region, according to Dai Guiying, director of the office's department of human resource development and regulations.

Although the office has launched a 10-year strategy in that regard, serious brain drain and a lack of highly skilled people are still curtailing the region's development.

"The problem is especially serious at the grassroots level, where qualified teachers, technicians and vets are in great demand," said Dai.

Wang, who has worked in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, says in the south of the region, nearly 50 per cent of all doctors are unqualified.

"Human resource development is the weakest point when it comes to the region's development and it will be the next focus of our work," he said.

Dai says she hopes "serving in the west for a short period can become a rule for all new civil servants."

In a related matter, the highly expected western development law is in its final draft, said Wang.

The law, expected to be introduced in three to five years, will dictate the development of the region.

"We are considering including such safeguards about the channels of capital supply for the region," said Wang.

Zhang Jianyu, a visiting scholar to Tsinghua University, pointed out the State authorities should take into consideration the reality of the unbalanced development between the nation's east and west while making policies.

Between 2000 and 2005, the central government has allocated 460 billion yuan (US$55.4 billion) for the construction of infrastructure in the western region and over 500 billion yuan (US$60.2 billion) as transfer payments and special subsidies, according to the office.

Between 2000 and 2003, the region's annual GDP growth has been 10 per cent on average. The region has gained substantial progress in infrastructure development in the past five years, with 60 key projects launched at a cost of 850 billion yuan (US$102.4 billion).

(China Daily 02/05/2005 page1)

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