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Doing his best to make it better

(China Daily) Updated: 2015-07-20

Doing his best to make it better

Wang Zhongbing (second left) shows the Baosteel Zhanjiang plant to guests attending the Forum on Internet Media of China on Saturday. Photos by Feng Yongbin / China Daily

Editor's note:Wang Zhongbing, 51, has been mayor of Zhanjiang for five years. He wants to transform the southernmost city of Guangdong province into another southern economic powerhouse alongside cities such as Foshan and Dongguan, and he has successfully courted a number of State-owned petrochemical, steel and papermaking giants to settle in the city. But Wang's vision encompasses the environmental and social implications of development on such an unprecedented scale as well, and he wants the transformation to also turn Zhanjiang into an eco-city. Wang tellsZhao Huanxinmore in this Q&A session.

After two years of construction, Baosteel's massive steel and iron plant in Zhanjiang begins trial operations in September, at a time when the industry is beset by overcapacity and there are growing concerns about the industry's impact on environment. How will it overcome these headwinds?

It must be noted that the new plant, with an annual output capacity of 10 million tons of top-quality steel, has been accompanied by the phasing out of 16.1 million tons of obsolete capacity in steel production in the whole of Guangdong province. As the strategic upgrade of the Baosteel Group's 30-year-old, Shanghai-based plant, the Zhanjiang plant is endowed with an unrivaled logistics advantage, namely the deepwater Zhanjiang Port that makes the transport of iron ores from Australia and Brazil and exports of finished products to southern China, Southeast Asia and beyond more cost-effective than almost anywhere on the mainland.

Doing his best to make it better

Meanwhile, there has been a massive investment to make the steel plant as environmentally friendly as possible. Based on the current budget, for each one ton of steel produced at least 700 yuan ($113) is being spent to minimize the discharge of pollutants. We have also made breakthroughs that turn the waste and other byproducts from either the steelmaking or petrochemical plants - which are 500 meters apart on Donghai Island - into the raw materials and energy for the other. We call that the circular economy.

I have confidence in this State-owned steel company. I'm sure people will still be able to still relish seafood worry-free after these modern industrial complexes go into full operation in Zhanjiang.

You were a blast-furnace man 30 years ago, shoveling raw materials into the furnace for two years. Last week, you pushed a button to start the trial operations of the plant's converter. How have things changed over the years?

There has certainly been a sea change in China's manufacturing sector over the past three decades. Still, I miss the days when I enjoyed the cool evenings with my co-workers beside a simple fan after sweating for a whole day by the blast furnace.

Slightly more than a century ago, the French occupied the port of Zhanjiang, which was then a minor fishing port. It was returned to China in the late 1940s. How has the port developed and what are its prospects?

Zhanjiang Port as we see it now was one of the first key projects undertaken during China's first Five-year Plan period (1953-1957). It is China's first, self-designed modern port. Before the 1980s, it was used for exports of materials to support countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and for imports from a limited number of countries such as Poland.

It took the port 18 years to increase its cargo throughput from 10 million metric tons to 100 million, and then six years to increase the throughput to 200 million metric tons. In a few years, we anticipate the throughput capacity at Zhanjiang Port will expand to 300 million metric tons, and the port channels will be expanded so vessels of 400,000 tons can berth. At present, the maximum is 300,000 tons.

Doing his best to make it better

The port boasts the shortest route from the Chinese mainland to Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania. You can imagine its prospects now the country has launched its Belt and Road Initiative, a trade and infrastructure network that will connect Asia, Europe and Africa.

Exports of seafood to European and American markets used to exceed 1 million tons a year. The exports are now declining. How will Zhanjiang respond?

Shrimp exports to the United States dropped in the first half of this year, and so it is with other seafoods to other countries. Actually, we are attaching equal importance to developing the domestic market, which is huge. Last year, Zhanjiang hosted a national aquatic product fair and such events will be held in the city annually to boost consumption.

You envision Zhanjiang having a "slow traffic lane of 300 kilometers" to support the "Footprint City" action plan. But we seem to have all embarked on a fast-track way of life ...

It all boils down to cultivating a way of living, whether you want to have your life dependent on polluting private wheels or cutting your carbon footprint by using more public transport, bicycles or simply by walking. Here is where the government should play a guiding role. Countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and Finland have facilities and designs that make pedestrians and cyclists fare well in cities. For Zhanjiang, we don't necessarily have to build new roads for pedestrians and cyclists, we just need to reallocate the rights to use the roads, for example, reserving lanes for walkers and bicycles and even for e-bikes. We anticipate the ratio of lanes designated to pedestrians and cyclists will take up 40 percent of the roads in Zhanjiang. By then we can call it a modest "footprint city".

You mentioned Russia, Finland and Germany, and you seem to have visited them a lot in recent years. What have you learned during your visits?

Like many Chinese officials, I used to pay a lot of attention to industrial development when I travelled abroad. But now I focus on the social development, like why there are so many smiling faces in every city I visit? How have the culture and environment been protected in these developed countries amid their economic booms? In Odense, the third-largest city in Denmark, places for residents to park their bicycles can be seen everywhere, many households have at least two bicycles for different purposes. There are a lot of things that Zhanjiang could do the same way.

You are a fluent English speaker. Does this help sharpen your vision and expand your horizons?

You actually become more modest and humble after you communicate with and get to know the insights of other peoples and immerse yourself in different cultures. You become more open-minded, open to different views, to criticism. As a mayor, I know I am not the best, but in everything I do, I do my best.

Contact the writer through zhaohuanxin@chinadaily.com.cn