The province of Zhejiang is blessed with hundreds of beautiful islands, and officials are encouraging public debate about how to develop them.
In December, the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang held an unusual public meeting, with the focus squarely on what to do with the many pristine islands that line its coast. Fittingly, it was held in the city of Zhoushan, which is composed entirely of a network of islands. Along with local citizens, environmental experts, lawyers and prominent businesspeople all voiced their opinion about this virtually unexplored resource.
If successful, Zhejiang will be the first Chinese province to create a comprehensive action plan for island development, an area where China has lagged many other parts of the world. After issuing a list of 176 islands with development potential in 2001, it looked as though island tourism could be a booming future industry. However, in 2007 the province announced that it had suspending development on any coastal islands until further notice, citing environmental concerns.
That changed in 2011, with the auction of a long-term lease of an island called Dayangyu near the city of Ningbo to a developer who intended to make a recreational center for yachts. China’s central government appeared to provide the impetus for Zhejiang’s change of heart: following territorial disputes in the South China Sea, party officials formally encouraged the development and occupation of the county’s remote islands.
The goal of the island hearing is the clarification of terms when it comes to the long-term leasing of the islands, which will hopefully make the application and development process run smoother. According to local government representatives, only a small number of islands have been rented since the development restrictions were lifted.
Ni Dingkang, who is in charge of the Zhoushan Ocean and Fisheries Bureau island lease program, attributes the lack of rentals to confusion over what it permitted. “I’ve been busy fielding telephone calls and visits from eager investors since the State Oceanic Administration released that long list of islands last year, but in most cases I’ve got to end the conversation with ‘No, you cannot buy the island and do whatever you want’,” he said.
The Zhoushan meeting may just be a turning point, however. A lively public discussion has helped establish important parameters like types of development, lease durations – 50 years will be standard – and how to balance the needs of both developers and the natural environment. “It’s not all about developers’ obligations, we also make their rights clear,” said one official.
Read more about this story: China Daily