Policymakers in Hainan have said they will continue to develop the province's booming tourism, but not lose sight of key environmental issues.
Governor Luo Baoming said yesterday that within five years, the country's southernmost province wants to be seen as a "green, open, prosperous, civilized and harmonious island".
"A sound, ecological environment is central to the development of Hainan," Luo told the annual provincial people's congress, which convened yesterday and ends on Tuesday.
The island, which has 8.5 million residents, became the country's newest province and largest Special Economic Zone 20 years ago, a decade into the reform and opening-up period.
Its service industry, in particular tourism, has powered ahead ever since.
The province attracted 18.46 million visitors - 1.51 million from Russia alone - last year, generating profits of US$301.6 million, tourism bureau chief Chen Qi said.
The island's development has been made possible by an influx of professionals, such as 42-year-old Li Jingna, a native of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, who moved to Hainan in 1992 as an economic development specialist and immediately fell in love with the place.
Li quit her job, became a tour guide, and gradually established a reputation as the best in the business nationwide. In September, she was voted one of the 53 "National Moral Models".
But as Hainan has grown into the country's number 2 holiday destination, behind the Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan province, its ecology and environment have become increasingly vulnerable to development projects, Li said.
"When I first came to Yalong Bay (a resort in the city of Sanya) in the early 90s, there was hardly anything around; it was much cleaner. Now, all you see are hotels and property developments by the beach."
A young girl presents a rose to a Russian student attending a winter camp in Haikou, Hainan province, earlier this month. The island province welcomed more than 1.5 million tourists from Russia last year.
Since 2003, Hainan has achieved annual double-digit GDP growth. This year's target is 11 percent, but officials have also vowed to lower the per-unit GDP energy use by 2.5 percent from last year.
"We must continue to grow, that's the reality," Li said, while stressing the need to protect the environment.
The provincial government shares her concern and is developing its infrastructure to better accommodate the tourism boom, Luo said.
In April, the Guangdong-Hainan Railway, the first cross-sea railway in China, opened to traffic.
Construction of a 302-km railway that will reduce the journey time between the cities of Haikou and Sanya from three-and-a-half hours to 80 minutes is also under way.
(China Daily January 25, 2008)