INTERVIEW - Beijing eyes makeover to become byword for "service"

BEIJING Mon Jan 10, 2011 3:10pm IST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing wants to transform itself into a centre of technology, service and innovation, where residents prefer mass transit over private cars to move easily about the futuristic capital, the city's deputy economic planning chief said on Monday.

"Over the next five years we'll create a service brand competitive worldwide that's as world famous as watches from Switzerland, fashion from Paris and garments from Italy," Lu Yingchuan, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, told Reuters.

The goal is to change the label from "made in Beijing" to "created in Beijing", he said.

While laudable, such aspirations could prove nothing more than a pipe dream, with city officials hoping to win over the hearts and minds of newly affluent consumers who increasingly vote with their pocketbooks.

To highlight the challenge facing officials, one need only look at the consumer tidal wave that quickly transformed China into the world's largest auto market, surpassing the United States, and creating a host of associated problems from choking air pollution to gridlock on many major roads.

After a massive building boom sparked by the Olympics and fuelled by a government stimulus programme, Beijing is also under pressure from scarce water and power supplies, a swelling population and a notorious pollution problem, so the city has no choice but to plot a new path of development.

One target is to cut a swath through the infamously smoggy air, achieving at least 80 percent "good air" days, compared with 48 percent a decade ago.

This year Beijing became the first Chinese city to restrict the number of vehicles on the road -- 20,000 a month -- and the local government hopes to turn the tide completely, with plenty of mass transit options so residents have no need to choose private cars in the future.

Still, getting people to give up their cars, or their aspirations for cars, will not be easy, and may bump up against other economic targets especially since the auto industry now forms a large part of China's job and industrial growth.

The goal, premised on a plan to boost public transport, reflects a big shift in attitudes to China's development, since the number of cars used to be seen as an easy indicator of economic growth.

The city now plans to double the length of its subway lines in the next five years, adding more than 300 km by the end of 2015. That comes on top of five new lines it opened with little fanfare on Dec 30, at a cost of $9.2 billion. [ID:nTOE6BT041]

The new round of railway construction, along with a low-cost housing programme, will keep Beijing consuming steel, although the city is hoping to find new materials such as ceramics or plastics that could help replace steel.

To help clear up its air and keep its economy powered, the government wants to cut coal use from 28 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes, using natural gas instead.

Beijing is aiming for 8 percent growth in the next five years, down from 9 percent in the last five-year plan.

"The one percent reduction shows we're shifting our way of development from just seeking economic growth to more better structure and quality to reduce pressure on resources and trying to create without consuming resources."

Beijing already boasts "China's Silicon Valley", an IT park that grew out of its university district in the northwest. Now it plans to set up similar service zones for science and technology, business, media and the financial sector, Lu said.

In addition to attracting private investment in its new projects, the city government will spend 10 billion yuan ($1.51 billion) annually on scientific innovation, intellectual property and research and development.

(Additional reporting by Shen Yan; Writing by Tom Miles; Editing by Ken Wills)

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