Beijing, China: China blindly developed the country side and ignored the rich wildlife and the flora and fauna of the region. China’s growth-obsessed development model is changing the landscape of the country. Changyao Mountain in Yunnan province, once a haven for wildlife on the edge of Kunming, is now a ‘concrete mountain’ because of illegal development.
Passengers flying over Changyao Mountain will see a huge construction site sprawling across what was a lush green landscape a little over a decade ago.
Echo Xie, writing in South China Morning Post (SCMP) said that now it has been turned into a “concrete mountain”, with cranes towering over dozens of unfinished villas installed like concrete boxes and surrounded by rows of completed apartment blocks. The soil has been dug up and piled here and there, covered with green plastic sheets.
The scandal came to light in May, when environmental inspectors found 813 villas and 294 blocks of flats had been built illegally on the mountainside, occupying 230 hectares (568 acres) of land, or 92 per cent of the mountain’s surface.
Environmentalists and observers said the destruction of the mountain epitomised a growth-obsessed development model that has been prevalent in Yunnan and other parts of China in the past few decades.
Following an investigation by the environmental police, Yunnan Communist Party chief Ruan Chengfa ordered a “resolute rectification” to correct the “problem of excessive development” as soon as possible.
Environmentalists said the destruction around Dianchi Lake began with mining, quarrying and chemical manufacturing in the 1980s, said Echo.
“The water of Dianchi Lake was pristine and there were fish and shrimps in the lake, but it was gradually polluted by the chemical factories built along the lake in the 1990s and nobody would drink the water,” said a local environmentalist, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
According to him, the water quality in Dianchi fell to “below Grade V” – the lowest in China’s water safety standard meaning it is unfit for agriculture and industrial use – in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the lake was one of the most polluted water bodies in China.
He said that while the locals welcomed the wealth the property boom brought, they had not anticipated the unwanted consequences – a hefty environmental bill.
“Local officials want to develop the economy … and real estate is the most profitable way, but they need to balance development and conservation,” the environmentalist said.
Gu Su, a political scientist at Nanjing University, said such problems were common in the country.
“The problem of illegal construction always exists because of the vast interests involved and local [officials] have their career tied to economic growth and this has given them huge impetus to put growth above everything else,” Gu said.
“Besides, power is highly concentrated. It doesn’t matter whether [the project] is a tourism resort, a polluting factory, or real estate, developers can start construction once they have the approval from officials, and it’s hard for the local environmental bureaus to stop it.”
Vested interests are often so entrenched at a local level that even environmental inspectors sent by Beijing are given the cold shoulder.
Chen Daoyin, a political commentator and a former professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said officials were often able to shift the blame for scandals of this nature.
“Local officials and their partners in crime can get away as long as they take some actions to give Beijing face and show that they have addressed the environmental problem,” Chen said.
In 2018 the leadership in the north-western province of Shaanxi were caught up in a major corruption scandal that centred on an illegal development in a nature reserve, reported SCMP.
Officials defied repeated orders from President Xi Jinping to demolish the holiday villas. Then the local party chief Zhao Zhengyong was found guilty of accepting the equivalent of USD 89 million in bribes from developers and was given a suspended death sentence.
Zhang Zhengxiang, a local environmentalist who has fought against pollution in the Dianchi area for four decades, said he was saddened by the destruction of Changyao Mountain.
The real estate project formed part of the wider Colourful Yunnan programme, a tourism initiative involving a total investment of 22 billion yuan and covering 1,067 hectares, about the same size as Long Beach in New York.
Zhang said the project had seen 30,000 locals uprooted from their homes to make way for tourist facilities, new housing and a wetland park.
He said went to the site every three days to witness and record the destruction and sent more than 2,000 complaints to authorities but to little effect.
“Yunnan provincial and Kunming city officials live near the lake. Why did they wait until the mountain became a ‘concrete mountain’ and the environmental inspectors came to stop the destruction?” he asked.