Sunday, May 21, 2006

Development Zone in Lai An, Anhui Province

We visited a development zone in Lai An, which is at the southeastern tip of Anhui Province, not far from Nanjing. This is a typical newly developed industrial area in the YRD (Yangtze River Delta) to serve the low to middle tier manufacturing needs from neighboring cities like Wanzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai.

RMB30,000 an acre, any taker?

Lai An used to be an agricultural region. A few years ago Premier Wan Jiabao visited as Lai An was a pilot location for policies that finally led to the removal of agricultural taxes earlier this year nationally. However, growing things on the ground simply does not make enough money compared to building factories.

It is somewhat disheartening for us to see the surrounding green slopes and paddy fields disappearing. But, it would be quite chavinistic for us to speak the "green talk" to these well-meaning folks of Lai An. They are indeed trying to improve the people's livelihood, although, admittedly, Anhui is above average in terms of the scale of wealth/poverty in China.

One of my professors told me that this has to do with the political ruling system as well. Local government leaders are measured by their economic performance and their future in politics and administrative government depends on such measurements, rather than conservation.

The complicated system of the ownership or rather the rights to the land by the local people is also only one that attempts to strike a very delicate and difficult balance. In the west, even the mayor of a small township would do what is best for his township, because he would have no aspirations for higher offices. But if we have the same system in China, given the low status of wealth that they are in, who is to say that they would not over-develop and damage the environment even further?

A 4.5 hour ride from Shanghai to Lai An was made worthwhile not because I saw anything special in the development zone. But being there is a close encounter to the cruel reality, harsh dilemmas and undercurrents of inequity that China is facing in its development process.


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