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Island banks on 76 major projects
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The southernmost island province of Hainan will spend 35.4 billion yuan (US$4.9 billion) this year on 76 "important projects" as part of a long-term development plan, officials have said.

The projects include a national space launch center to be built in Wenchang county, an east circular railway which will cut traveling time between the province's most developed cities of Haikou and Sanya from three-and-a-half hours to 80 minutes, and a Yangpu Bonded Harbor Area - China's fourth harbor area - with preferential tax rates.

Hainan governor Luo Baoming revealed the plan at the annual people's congress on Friday.

Luo said the projects are "crucial to the long-term development of Hainan" and those that have started construction have helped double the island's gross domestic product (GDP) and fiscal revenue in the past five years.

However, limited resources saw Hainan's GDP last year ranking above just the western Qinghai province and the autonomous regions of Ningxia and Tibet in all of China, official figures showed.

It will take another 20 years before the "late starter" can become a developed province - when its per capita GDP can hit $10,000 from the current $1,909, said Liao Xun, vice-president of the Provincial Party School and a people's congress delegate.

"Innovation, which has always been a part of our culture, will lead to Hainan's rise. We were the first province to embrace a socialist market economy, the notion of fair competition for all forces in the market, as well as the 'small government, big society' approach," Liao said.

While a number of projects have sparked intensive debate about their impact on the environment, most delegates sounded confident.

The province is studying to include eco-environment protection into the performance evaluation scheme for local officials and will set up the country's first ecological compensation system, Lin Shiluan, head of Hainan's land and resources department, said.

On the same day, Yang Liwei, China's first taikonaut - the Chinese term for astronaut - dismissed worries about the environmental effects of the Wenchang center, saying the launches will be non-toxic and will do no harm to the local ecology.

Yang, who was visiting Hainan, said space and environment authorities had researched the impact of the new center on the surrounding environment before choosing Wenchang.

"The public needn't worry about environmental issues," he said.

"What's more, the launch center could become a landmark building in Hainan and a tourist attraction."

Construction of the new center, which would serve next-generation rocket carriers, is expected to begin at the end of this year, and the center would be in use within three to five years, he added.

(Xinhua News Agency January 28, 2008)

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