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|Source: Dalian Environmental Protection Bureau. Figures are microgram per cubic meter
The Green Revolution
Ricky Wong for Asiaweek
A businessman and his bride pose for the wedding album in a Dalian park
In China's industrial north, Dalian shows cleaning up the environment is good for business
By DAVID HSIEH Dalian
Among China's gray, pollution-plagued cities, Dalian is a rarity. Its broad thoroughfares are lined with trees, manicured garden squares and parks. Traffic flows smoothly, shiny double-decker buses have replaced aged, poison-belching fleets and dust levels are low despite considerable construction work. To a visitor coming from the smog of Beijing, the air is a refreshing change.
Dalian has prospered as a focus of trade with Japan and South Korea. But that also made it more vulnerable to the Asian Crisis, adding to the dislocations of economic reform. Yet residents, including celebrity athletics coach Ma Junren, are enormously proud of their city. Remarkably, Dalian is part of China's largely moribund northern industrial heartland. It is home, for instance, to the Dalian Heavy Engineering Group. One of the largest machinery plants in the country - and a loss-making state enterprise under painful restructuring - the group is shedding at least 800 workers from an original payroll of 7,600 people. But even this apparent dinosaur has invested in cleaner production methods to bring its air and waste emissions within permitted levels. "We are an SOE but also a responsible corporate citizen," says spokesman Chu Liang. "If we don't adapt to the city's demands, we will surely lose our competitiveness." Once reluctant ly cooperative, the company is now taking a pro-active role in the city's environmental upgrade.
Ren Limin, who heads a residents' committee, remembers how horrible his neighborhood used to be: "It was really smelly." Petrochemical and fuel plants were the main culprits fouling the air and waterways. Then, six years ago, a new go-getting mayor, Bo Xilai, fought to implement stricter emission controls and to shut down the worst polluters. Anything that involves job losses will meet resistance, Ren observes, but officials made sure redundant workers were looked after - and the environment got better. The 50-year-old Bo explains his aggressive green stance: "Our expenditure for environmental protection was substantial, but we were aware that benefits are great. Once a city is clean, people feel better and foreigners are attracted to invest more. The city gains value this way."
And it did. "Dalian is greener and taller. Mayor Bo seized opportunities and made most of the city's advantages," says one elderly man. Hou Yanfei, who runs a small eatery specializing in Chinese pancakes, agrees. "Ours is the prettiest city in the northeast," he says. Business is tougher than before, but the former soldier declares himself satisfied with city policies. However, he can't resist pointing out that the end of state-subsidized meals has hit ordinary people hard and too many workers are being laid off.
||t h e t o p 1 0
||Bandar Seri Begawan
|Beijing, No. 10 last year, disappears from this year's list. But China is still
represented, thanks to Shanghai, which comes in ninth, equal with Hong Kong
How we did it
Sun Hongzhi is one of them. The worker was made redundant a couple of years ago. To supplement his compensatory xiagang allowance, a mere $12, he runs a fruit and cigarettes stall. The tiny business brings in just $120 each month so Sun is fortunate to retain the cheap housing provided by his old work unit. Deduct his national and city taxes ("too high," he insists), and there is precious little to live on. Even so, Sun reckons Bo has done well. "At least he has redeveloped the city and made the access routes more convenient," he says.
Businessmen like Su Yuan are equally admiring of the municipal government. Officials took just seven working days to approve his factory license, which requires chops from 17 different departments, recalls Su, the manager of Dalian Pegasus Ginseng Pharmaceutical, a Canadian-owned plant. When building the factory, for instance, workmen struck underground piping, which could have seriously delayed construction. Sun and his colleagues turned to the city planning department, which immediately set up a working group to investigate the problem. Within days, the experts drew up a detailed map of the piping - with advice on how crucial lines could be avoided. Instead of mounting losses over an expected 25-day hold-up, Pegasus resolved its problems in about nine days.
Su says the Dalian government's reputation was a key factor in setting up a plant in the city. "We made a careful survey of all major northeast cities, focusing on government behavior and image. Dalian had a lot of drive and flexibility, as reflected in city governance." That is not to say the city authorities are prepared to have foreign investors at any cost. To operate in a specially designated development zone, Pegasus must conform to rigorous labor and environmental protection laws. Zone authorities regulate the labor market, and all workers, including temporary ones, are given full labor protection - rights seldom enforced in China's free-wheeling southern provinces. Enterprises with high emissions are banned. And brewing operations and plants dependent on large-scale biochemical processes are rarely approved. Each factory is inspected annually for pollutants, noise, dust and water. What's more, 24% of the grounds must be set aside for green space. Such stringent standards have not put off investors, Su says. Rather, they appreciate the clarity of regulations, the city's environmental record - and more pleasant surroundings.
In pockets such as Zhongshan Square, graceful colonial buildings provide a link with the past - legacies from the city's Russian founders and Japanese imperial rulers. Shining towers and high-rise residences now replace most of the crammed inner ghettos. The city government set up housing companies to undertake the renewal, and relocated the residents to alternative homes. Families who wanted to return were housed in the new flats; the remainder were sold on the private market. Coupled with other low-cost housing projects, per capita living space has risen to 9.1 square meters at the end of last year from 6.8 square meters six years ago.
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Dalian hasn't been immune to the side-effects of China's breakneck growth, like rampant real-estate development. But city hall is adjusting its policies, Bo says. For instance, it has imposed controls on building luxury hotels and top-end commercial property. Meanwhile, Dalian is trying to shift from its traditional reliance on heavy industry and agribusiness. To fill the vacuum: light manufacturing (a joint venture with Toshiba to make large-screen TVs and multi-media equipment, for instance), high-tech industries and other service-oriented businesses.
Financial institutions have also been shaken up since the start of last year. "We want to rein in companies with insufficient financing or which don't invest efficiently," says mayor Bo. However, they were not able to avert the debacle of the Dalian International Trust and Investment Corp. (the city owns 10%), which defaulted on $140 million debt. While the collapse of a similar unit in Guangdong led to the sacking of several party leaders, Bo has been largely untainted by the Ditic failure.
Perhaps because of Bo's princeling credentials - his father is the Long March veteran Bo Yibo - the charismatic mayor often shows little regard for party apparatchiks (sending a deputy to meet provincial chiefs, for instance). Nonetheless, he gets things done - and fairly openly. The municipal authorities run a large office dealing with letters of complaints, and they get many every day, most addressed to the mayor. These are filed for Bo, who scans them each month to identify key problems.
Corruption, he concedes, remains a big hurdle, so any complaint related to graft is investigated. "Citizens should know as much as possible. This way, they'll better understand our intentions; how much difficulty we face," he says. During the Spring Festival period each year, Bo appears on live TV to take questions from the public. Over three-and-a-half hours, that can add up to several hundred questions. Such open and direct dialogue between leaders and community is unusual in the mainland. But the mayor believes it is necessary: "My basic view is: we want to make this city a better place. So we have no choice [but to listen to the people]." Still, as a communist party leader, Bo recognizes "difficulties involved in citizen participation." That's the other hurdle Chinese cities will have to clear.
Sulfur Dioxide 0.072 µg/m3 0.058 µg/m3
Suspended Particles 0.228 µg/m3 0.166 µg/m3
Nitrogen Dioxide 0.097 µg/m3 0.047 µg/m3
Source: Dalian Environmental Protection Bureau. Figures are microgram per cubic meter
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