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Road Spells Economic Lifeline
Construction of a 4,397-kilometre highway network linking areas inhabited by ethnic minority groups is going smoothly and has already brought benefit to Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

Costing 3.76 billion yuan (US$450 million) and covering the mountainous areas more than 3,000 metres above sea level, the highway network is expected to connect the Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures of Aba and Garze and the Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Liangshan by the end of next year, highway builders said.

So far, more than 15 million square metres of road surface have been laid since the project began in June last year.

In what has been described by the Chinese Government as an all-important project to develop the country's vast western regions and to speed up economic development in ethnic areas, Huang Zhendong, former minister of communication, said the bulk of funding for it would be met by the central government.

Located in the western part of the Sichuan Basin, the three ethnic autonomous prefectures cover a total land space of 300,000 square kilometers, or 60 percent of Sichuan's total. Inhabited by more than 5.6 million people of the Tibetan, Qiang and Yi ethnic groups, the area is also rich in water and mineral resources.

For a long period of time, the rich resources of water, minerals and tourism were not developed and exploited due to adverse geographical conditions and poor communication facilities.

A farmer from Liangshan Prefecture said his hometown is rich in apples, but that had brought little benefit to locals.

"Only a small portion was transported to other parts (of China) and many became rotten," said the farmer.

At present, the total length of the area's highways is only 21,000 kilometers, which translates into 7.1 kilometers per 100 square kilometers.

Zou Guangyan, deputy governor of Sichuan, said the project is expected to play a key role in promoting the development of tourism, the power industry, farming and animal husbandry, energy consumption and other specific industries in the area.

(China Daily December 2, 2002)

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