China to move some facilities out of polluted capital to ease congestion

BEIJING Thu Mar 27, 2014 10:52am EDT

People wearing masks walk along a street on a heavy hazy day in Beijing, March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

People wearing masks walk along a street on a heavy hazy day in Beijing, March 27, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China plans to move some administrative, research and healthcare facilities out of its capital to a nearby city to ease the burden on Beijing, which is often wreathed in heavy smog and choked with traffic jams, state media reported on Thursday.

The environment has emerged as one of Beijing's key priorities amid growing public disquiet about urban smog, dwindling and polluted water supplies and the widespread industrial contamination of farmland.

With a population of more than 21 million and more than 5 million cars on the road, Beijing's living conditions are being pushed to their limits.

A study by a Chinese government think tank released in February said that severe pollution had made the city almost uninhabitable for human beings, state media reported.

Baoding, a dusty industrial city 100 miles southwest of the capital, will host the administrative units, universities, research institutes and healthcare facilities that are to be relocated, official news agency Xinhua said.

No timeframe was given for the plan, but some citizens are skeptical.

"(The government) only thinks about spreading functions but doesn't think about equitable allocation of resources, what good will that do?" said a user on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

President Xi Jinping recently floated a strategy to ease pressure on Beijing, as part of a solution to the problems the city faces, from overcrowding and pollution to relentless expansion.

Beijing must relocate non-core functions, rein in its population, and stop "spreading out like a big pancake", Xi told government officials at a meeting last month, Xinhua said.

Baoding city, where the dominant industry is heavy machinery and the auto industry, itself has more than 11 million people.

China's environment ministry has historically been unable to enforce anti-pollution laws effectively.

Despite repeated pledges to clean up China's seriously polluted environment, especially in the highly industrialized east, little apparent progress appears to have been made.

(Reporting by Li Hui and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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