Premier Wen Jiabao has called for improved efforts to promote the country's ecological balance and sustainable economic and social development, which, he said, has a great impact on the survival and development of the Chinese nation.
Addressing a Sept. 27-28 national forestry conference, the premier said China must have a good understanding of the important and strategic position of the forestry sector in economic construction and social development, and attach great importance to the sustainable development of the sector.
Wen said forestry should be viewed as a sector which occupies the most fundamental position in China's ambitious program to develop its impoverished and ecologically fragile western region.
China should step up the development of its forestry sector in a responsible way, continue its six major national afforestation projects and encourage investment from various channels for afforestation so as to ensure ecological balance through creating a good ecological system and through sustainable exploitation, he acknowledged.
He urged governments at all levels to include afforestation projects into their overall economic and social development programs.
The Chinese government has recently published its decision calling for greater efforts to facilitate the country's afforestation campaign, and improve its management of forestry resources for sustainable social and economic development.
Despite massive afforestation projects over the past two decades, China's environmental situation allows no room for optimism due to frequent natural adversities, such as flooding and droughts.
Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Forestry Administration (SFA), said earlier this year that about 400 million people have been affected by desertification and a total of 1.7 million square kilometers of land, or 18.2 percent of China's total land area, has become seriously degraded and turned sandy.
The sandy land is expanding by 3,436 sq km per year, noted the official.
Sandstorms have been witnessed almost every year in northern China, including Beijing and Tianjin municipalities, and devastating floods along the Yangtze River in the central and east China provinces Hubei, Hunan and Anhui in 1998, partly due to excessive deforestation.
Those devastating floods prompted the Chinese central government to ban logging of nature forests in the upper reaches of the river and elsewhere in China in a substantial effort to curb water and soil erosion, which was worsened by commercial logging.
Hundreds of thousands of loggers in the upper reaches of the Yangtze river and in China's northernmost Heilongjiang province lost their jobs and many of them have been employed instead to plant trees and protect existing forests.
In an interview with Xinhua earlier this month, the SFA director said that China has plans to invest 700 billion yuan (US$85 billion) in the coming five decades on six major national ecological projects in a bid to plant a total of 73 million ha of trees and other vegetation to turn China into an ecologically-friendly land.
Last year, 7.47 million ha of trees were planted, 4.15 million hectares of farmland were turned back into woods and 95.1 million hectares of natural forests were put under proper protection, said Zhou.
Meanwhile, government spending in forestry sector surged 93 percent on an annual basis to 34.7 billion yuan (US$4.18 billion) last year.
"In contrast to the forest coverage rate of 8.6 percent in the early 1950s, 16.55 percent of China's territory is currently covered with 158.7 million hectares of forest," Zhou added.
The figure is expected to rise to 26 percent in five decades, according to a government plan.
(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2003)