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Buildings torn down inside protected area

Prapancha (18 posts) • 0

Well, the big guns are coming in October for the UN Biodiversity Conference, if not delayed again. You obviously can't have the event hosts lay waste to the lake while the esteem guests visit Dianchi. Quite a few villas from high profile developers were torn down there. Buyers were able to get their money back.
Chinadaily's page clicking was annoying. Four pages to go through for a brief article.

AlPage48 (1335 posts) • 0

That's a huge development project.
How does it get so far along without having permits to build, or did they have illegal permits in the first place?

JanJal (1179 posts) • -1

In many other countries one might find matches and correlations between those acquiring property like this, and the reasons how such projects go so far. Doesn't happen here.

Prapancha (18 posts) • 0

@AlPage48, your question may be answered below. Just published, a comprehensive article with pictures of the illegal golf courses and demolition of over 1,000 villas and flats along the banks of Dianchi:

"Ahead of COP15 summit, China cracks whip on environmental corruption in Kunming.

-

China is due to host a major environmental meeting that it hopes will put Kunming, known as ‘City of Eternal Spring’, on the map

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But this hasn’t stopped the Chinese leadership from exposing a scandal involving local officials and developers to build projects in conservation areas

by Wang Xiangwe

Kunming, capital of China’s southwestern Yunnan Province, is famed as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its temperate climate which allows plants and flowers to bloom all year round.

And the Dianchi Lake, the biggest freshwater lake in the province and the sixth-largest in the country, is a top tourist destination billed as “a pearl on the plateau”, referring to the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, home to a vast diversity of flora and fauna. More than half of China’s plant species and protected wild animals are found here.

This probably explains why the Chinese leadership has chosen the city to host a key United Nations biodiversity summit, officially known as the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention of Biological Diversity.

COP15, the biggest diversity summit in a decade, will be the first time China takes the lead in forging a major international accord for nature, similar to the Paris climate agreement.

Chinese President Xi Jinping
has personally appealed to world leaders on several occasions to join the summit, which has been delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic
and is now scheduled for October.

So it comes as a surprise that Chinese leaders have decided to expose a scandal involving local officials and property developers in Kunming, who colluded to breach local and national laws to build residential buildings and golf courses in conservation areas along the shorelines of the Dianchi Lake.

Since last weekend, state media have carried extensive reports based on the month-long probe by the central government environmental investigators, who found blatant destruction of the ecosystem around the lake, which covers about 310 square kilometres in the southern suburbs of Kunming.

Some leading media outlets, including the People’s Daily newspaper and Xinhua news agency, have run scathing commentaries on the alleged collusion and called for stern punishments.

The reports and commentaries have caused a national uproar and a huge embarrassment for the provincial and city officials tasked with organising the logistics for the COP15 summit raising the international profile of the city and province.

Beijing’s surprising decision to air the dirty laundry in public should be commended, and is a sign of its conviction to tackle the environmental degradation head-on.

If history can be any guide, one would have expected the central government to sweep such negative findings under the carpet and deal with the problems under the radar, for fear of putting an unwanted spotlight on a city that will soon host such a high-profile environmental event, thus sullying China’s overall image.

Tackling pollution and environmental degradation has been one of Xi’s signature projects ever since he came to power in late 2012, along with the campaigns to root out corruption and extreme poverty – all of which have won him popular support.

Before that, Xi’s predecessors, including Hu Jintao, frequently talked up the importance of environmental protection, only for local officials to realise those words were empty rhetoric.

But Xi is different. Couching his policy in the punchy line which says that clear waters and green mountains are just as valuable as mountains of gold and silver, he matches his words with tough actions.

In 2018, Xi made an example of the party chief of Shaanxi province, his hometown, who was later given a suspended death sentence on corruption charges. The trigger for Zhao Zhengyong’s downfall was his move to obfuscate Xi’s directives to investigate the illegal construction of residential developments in the ecologically fragile Qinling mountains.

But the latest scandal in Kunming has shown that local officials’ passive resistance to Xi’s policy agenda remains strong because of corruption and greed.

According to the findings of the investigators, about one-third of the 163km shorelines of the Dianchi Lake – most of which are designated nature conservation areas – have been encroached by property developments and golf courses.

The report particularly highlighted two projects, one golf club and one residential development, for blatantly violating nature conservation regulations for years, apparently with the tacit support of local officials.

The reports offer fascinating details on how the local officials and businesses put on a farcical show to circumvent the rules, often by using an ecologically-sounding name.

The 18-hole golf course, on the eastern coast of the lake, covers 703 mu (46.9 hectares), about 65 per cent of which falls into the green zone conservation areas in which such projects are explicitly banned.

Under the thin disguise of operating an “outdoor tourist and recreational park”, the owners managed to secure all the necessary approvals to begin the construction in 2008 and operations in 2010, even though the central government issued an explicit ban on new courses in 2004, according to the reports.

The club continued to run despite at least seven crackdowns by the central and local authorities. In one instance, the local officials lied to the central government that the course had ceased its operations.

Before the central government investigators arrived last month, the owners inserted small trees on the surface of the course. In front of the TV cameras, the investigators asked one local official to pull out one tree with his hands, which the official did with embarrassing ease.

At the nearby Changyao Hill, another conservation area, the developers turned 90 per cent of the hill’s surface into “concrete mountains” with the construction of low-rise residential buildings and villas, some of which have been sold, according to the reports. The developers appeared to have secured all the necessary approvals under the guise of operating a holiday resort.

Following the reports, the top provincial leaders have rushed to the scene and all the buildings are being demolished. There is no doubt that a number of local officials will be punished and some of them may even receive jail sentences for corruption.

It is worth noting that despite the hyperbole of calling the Dianchi Lake the “pearl”, it was in fact one of the worst polluted lakes in China due to rapid urbanisation in the 1980s that saw companies discharge untreated waste into the water.

For years, its water quality was rated inferior to Grade V, the worst level in the national grading system. After three decades of often unsuccessful attempts and investment totalling 50 billion yuan (US$7.7 billion), the water was only upgraded to Grade IV in 2018, the second-worst level.

Chinese officials may intend to hold up its latest crackdown in Kunming as a timely example of its own conservation efforts for the world leaders who will attend the COP15 in October.

But it also shows a challenging road ahead."

www.scmp.com/[...]

fabey (25 posts) • 0

Caixin published a piece yesterday on the tug and pull between conservation and development in Yunnan, and more specifically, of Kunming's Dianchi.

"Southwest China' s scenic Yunnan province has intensified efforts to protect its many lakes, demolishing hundreds of illegally constructed buildings in the process. But demand for development and corruption are hurdles to conservation:"

www.caixinglobal.com/[...]

fabey (25 posts) • +3

Thank you tiger for years of mod-in'.

"On a sunny November day, Zhang Mei sat on a terrace on Changyao Mountain in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China.

At the foot of the mountain lies a protected segment of Dianchi Lake, where newly planted pine trees are still too small to cast shadows on the yellow-brown soil.

Just over six months ago, this area was packed with expensive villas. Not anymore, as the buildings, deemed to have been illegally constructed, were demolished and replaced with trees.

As of Nov. 10, more than 214 buildings covering an area of 140,000 sq. meters (34.6 acres) have been torn down, according to a government statement. The whole process of removing the development cost nearly 2 billion yuan ($313.7 million).

The demolition campaign was triggered by a central environmental inspection in April, when inspectors found that Changyao was encroached upon by real estate projects, severely damaging the ecosystem of Dianchi, the province's largest lake.

The country's top environmental watchdog then urged local authorities to rectify the situation. This was followed by graft investigations against dozens of officials. It was one of the most high-profile public rebukes of a local government over an environmental failure linked to illicit development.

The demolition highlights Yunnan's travails in protecting its high-altitude lakes, and preserving its rich ecology, while at the same time also promoting development in what is still a relatively poor province.

"As an underdeveloped region, Yunnan is facing the dual pressure of environmental protection and development," Duan Changqun, a member of the Yunnan Provincial Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told Caixin, adding that the province should spare no effort to balance scientific protection and intelligent development.

The case also illustrates China's struggle to crack down on ecological abuses, as the country prioritizes environmental protection to achieve a greener and sustainable future.

Rectification campaign

Dianchi Lake, a high-altitude semi-closed lake, was once one of the most polluted in China. There are nearly 30 rivers flowing into Dianchi, but there is only one outlet, causing pollutants to build up.

Some 60% of Kunming's more than 8.4 million residents live in the Dianchi Lake basin, generating 80% of the city's economic output. The density of the population and concentration of business activity posed a great environmental threat to the lake.

Over the past few decades, Kunming has spent billions of dollars on protecting the lake. In 2008, the city launched a program to protect wetlands, forests and water by preventing farming on protected land, and reviving ponds, relocating residents and dismantling buildings. Thanks to these efforts, Dianchi is now surrounded by more green land and wetlands.

In 2019, Zhang Mei bought a house in Yunling community, a real estate project on Changyao Mountain. "What attracted me was the unparalleled view of Dianchi Lake," Zhang said. Located on the southeastern bank of Dianchi, the mountain is a vital part of the lake's ecosystem and also an important ecological isolation belt for Kunming.

With an improvement in Dianchi's environment, real estate developers have shown great interest in building around the lake, with most commercial projects going up in the name of cultural tourism and health care, an industry insider told Caixin.

The central government inspectors found that real estate developer Kunming Nuoshida Enterprise Group had, since 2015, erected more than 1,000 buildings in Changyao's mountainous area in the name of building healthy housing projects for retired people, the type project permitted by the government.

With a planned area of 564 acres, the development includes 813 villas and 294 high- and mid-rise buildings. Inspectors pointed out that the massive project has caused severe damage to the environment.

Following the inspection, local authorities started taking action. In May, provincial and city leaders conducted a field survey to investigate excessive development in Changyao Mountain. Shortly afterward, authorities demolished buildings under construction in the Grade-II protected area of Dianchi, while also launching a greening and vegetation recovery program.

In addition to the mountain, a commercial project by a subsidiary of Sunac China Holdings in the Jinning district was also found to have been built illegally. The Wuyucun town project, with an expected area of over 300 acres, planned to build a five-star hotel, a conference center, and homestay clusters, among others. Half of the project was completed and some stores had already opened.

On Nov. 21, Caixin found that the whole town had disappeared. Zeng Hong from Hubei Province told Caixin that he bought a house in the town in 2020, intending to open a homestay, but his house was demolished in September.

Caixin has learned that the Wuyucun town project was located in a Grade-II protected area of Dianchi, and was torn down due to "environmental protection rectifications." After the demolition work is finished, an ecological park will be built on the site.

Strengthening protection work

Starting with Dianchi, Yunnan has launched a campaign to combat illegal construction around lakes. Near Fuxian Lake in the city of Yuxi, an hour's drive from Kunming, buildings under construction were also torn down recently.

On Sept. 27, Yunnan authorities issued guidelines saying the province will abandon urban construction projects around lake and demolish illegally constructed buildings, prohibiting "close-to-line development" in the name of cultural tourism and health care.

However, as Chen Yue, head of the department of law at Southwest Forestry University, pointed out, while Yunnan has been issuing regulations on lake conservation, problems still exist, such as the practice of "damaging while protecting," and developing the economy at the cost of the environment.

"On one hand, local authorities do have a clear awareness of protection. On the other hand, the protection red line is always crossed due to a strong need for economic development," he noted.

Duan said Yunnan should adhere to the principle of prohibiting off-lake development and construction for all high-altitude lakes for the province as a whole, not only in Dianchi.

Corruption

Lake protection efforts have also been hampered by corruption.

According to government statements, more than 20 officials in Yunnan have been investigated over the past five months through November, many of whom were suspected of corruption over lake protection.

In late October, Wang Daoxing, former vice mayor of Kunming, was placed under investigation. A source from an ecology and environment department in Yunnan told Caixin that Wang had long been in charge of the Dianchi Lake environment improvement project and served as chairman of Kunming Dianchi Investment.

According to the company's website, Dianchi Investment is a wholly state-owned company established in 2004 and is the main body for investment and financing in the cleanup of Dianchi Lake pollution, including sewage treatment. The company has raised more than 50 billion yuan ($7.85 billion) for the lake's protection.

Beside Wang, two other Kunming officials who previously served as chairman of Dianchi Investment have also been investigated, including Xu Zengxiong, former deputy director of the city's Bureau of Industry and Information Technology.

At a Nov. 10 conference, Yunnan's graft watchdog revealed details of the suspected corruption cases of He Bin and Fang Xiong, two former deputy directors of the Department of Ecology and Environment of Yunnan, noting the need to close loopholes in administrative examination and approval, and urging the department to draw lessons from these cases.

That same day, two other officials at the department, including chief engineer Xian Wei and the General Office's director, Zhou Shuguang, were put under investigation for "suspected serious violations of discipline and law," a common euphemism for graft.

Zhang Mei and Zeng Hong are pseudonyms used at the request of the interviewees."

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