As a Chinese proverb goes, “To have friends come from afar is happiness, is it not?” Unsurprisingly the country’s leaders often makes huge efforts to impress foreign dignitaries. Last November, when Beijing hosted the APEC summit, the capital city shuttered roughly 10,000 industrial plants in five adjacent provinces and cities both before and during the gathering. It also took half of the city’s cars off the road and prevented residents from heating their homes with coal until the meeting was over.
The moves ensured the APEC delegates would enjoy clean air and blue skies. But in addition the Beijing government likewise spent over Rmb36 billion ($5.6 billion) to further develop the area around Yangqi Lake, which sits on the northern outskirts of Beijing and was where some of the APEC event was held. The original plan was to turn the district into a tourist destination, and move think tanks and non-government organisations there after the APEC summit. But a year on, the brand new commercial and tourism developments around Yangqi Lake remain largely deserted.
When a reporter from Hong Kong broadcaster TVB visited, he hardly saw anyone, even though a part of the convention centre has been turned into a five-star hotel to receive tourists. Many newly built residential developments nearby were also empty. “Yangqi Lake has gone from a new town to a ghost town,” the TV channel reported.
“Basically there are no visitors. Over there, it is just a one-way street and there are not many entertainment facilities. A lot of people come and take a look and then leave, spending no more than half an hour in the process,” a local resident told TVB. “There’s really not much to do.”
The bears will likely now add Yangqi Lake to the map of China’s ghost towns.
Aside from Erdos, other examples are emerging. After Shenyang hosted the National Games in 2013, the northeastern city’s Hunnan New District was likewise festooned with beautifully-constructed facilities. Instead of growing into an residential and commercial boomtown as the planners had hoped, Hunnan is also suffering from post-event depression. The new area remains largely abandoned. Most of its residential buildings are empty, or worse still, half- completed (after construction commenced three years ago).
“You could throw a stone and not hit anyone here – it’s that empty,” one local taxi driver told Wen Wei Po, a newspaper. “Local people in Shenyang wouldn’t want to buy a house here. They don’t even bother to come and take a look even though the property prices here are only half of that in Huanggu and Heping District [two other residential districts in Shenyang].”
Local governments often like to host large-scale sporting events or exhibitions as a way to obtain loans for infrastructure and real estate projects. However, with inadequate planning, more often than not the end result is another white elephant.
“The way government officials think is that: we will build something very grand, make everything bigger and better. If this area is lagging behind in development, they think that some sporting event or large summit could help attract people. But this doesn’t always happen,” Wang Fuzhong from the Central University of Finance and Economics told TVB.
Indeed, looking at Shenyang’s Hunnan district it is easy to understand why there are so few takers for the new apartments. Wen Wei Po says nearby office buildings constructed around the same time are also empty. There are no shops or supermarkets next to the residential developments. The newspaper reckons that people would have to walk for at least half an hour just to buy a bottle of water.
But Beijing Enterprises, the property conglomerate behind the Yangqi Lake project, says it is not worried about the former APEC venue turning into another ghost town. The solution? The company has decided to turn it into a moviemaking hub for film studios. In fact, this year’s Beijing International Film Festival was hosted at the scenic area to lend it some star power. It certainly helps that Yangqi Lake is only a stone’s throw from fellow state firm China Film Group’s huge (and also brand new) studio complex…
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