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Mayors Vow to Help Their Residents

Mayors of China's two largest cities, Shanghai and Beijing, Monday demonstrated their frank and practical working styles with their pledges to put people first in their future work.

Both of the high-ranking officials admitted that there are both light and dark sides during robust development in the two cities.

"Behind the skyscrapers there are poor and shabby shelters," said Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng.

He made the frank comments during a group discussion at the ongoing annual discussion of the National People's Congress (NPC).

Han, who is also an NPC deputy, was referring to Shanghai's widening gap between the rich and the poor.

"The government should not see only the achievements and the good side of our work," he said in front of dozens of reporters from both domestic and overseas media organizations. "Rather, we should always stay level-headed and pay more attention to an imbalanced development in our city."

Han stressed that Shanghai still faces the arduous tasks of improving the living standards of all of its residents, despite growing overall wealth amid an economic growth of 11.8 per cent last year.

The per capita income of urban residents grew by 12 per cent last year in Shanghai, compared with an 8 per cent jump for rural citizens.

The city's registered unemployment rate stood at 4.5 per cent, with over 300,000 out of work. Meanwhile, a total of 350,000 people are still living in poverty, according to Han.

He disclosed that the biggest concern for himself and his government is that hundreds of thousands of people are still living in dangerous and shabby houses.

Since 1990, the city has demolished about 40,000 square kilometers worth of shabby houses to relocate dwellers into new buildings.

But up to now, Han said, there is still about 10,000 square kilometers worth of shabby houses that have yet to be rebuilt, adding that his government receives many letters about the issue every day.

"It may take you up to three days to tour all places that present Shanghai as a modern city," he said. "But it may also take you as many days to see shabby and poor areas in our city."

He said that is why his government should do its utmost to improve the welfare of the people and strive for their best interests.

Beijing mayor

Han's counterpart, Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan, appeared equally frank when he pointed to poor housing conditions for more than 1 million residents in the capital.

"You would have never imagined how bad their living conditions are,'' the mayor said emotionally.

Wang, also an NPC deputy, told a group discussion of the Beijing delegation that nearly 350,000 local households, or 1.1 million people, are living in houses with a per capita living space of under 6 square meters.

These people do not have toilets in their houses and have to walk miles away to use public facilities.

It should be a top priority for the government to improve living conditions for these people ahead of 2008 when Beijing hosts the Olympic Games, according to Wang.

Since 1991, Beijing has moved more than 1.5 million people into new buildings after rebuilding shabby houses. During the process of rebuilding, Wang admitted, there did exist exceptional cases of forced demolition of urban residential buildings.

"We will order related departments to strictly abide by the law and communicate more effectively with occupants to facilitate the demolition program,'' he said.

The mayor also vowed to better protect Beijing's architectural and social heritage, a sign of the city's long history and rich traditional culture, during the process of urban renovation.

(China Daily March 9, 2004)


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