China to Curb Commercial Land Reclamation

China to Curb Commercial Land ReclamationChina to Curb Commercial Land Reclamation

China will not approve any new commercial land reclamation initiated by local authorities this year, but key defense and infrastructure projects planned by the central government are likely to get the go-ahead.

The State Oceanic Administration said it would in principle stop approving "regular" reclamation projects in 2018, the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.

Instead, the annual land reclamation quota would be mostly reserved for "major construction, public infrastructure, public services and national defense".

The decision comes after the central government criticized local authorities for lax supervision on land reclamation that has led to severe damage to the marine ecosystem.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made environmental protection a priority amid rising public discontent over chronic and widespread pollution problems stemming from decades of unbridled economic growth. The report said the regulator had suspended six projects last year in its "strictest ever crackdown" on land reclamation. China reclaimed some 11,100 hectares of land in 2015, according to the latest government data.

Tao Jianhua, a marine environment expert at Tianjin University, said it was often cheaper for local governments in China to reclaim land than to obtain rights to land. He said the tighter restrictions could not reverse the environmental damage caused by huge reclamation works in the past decades.

"It's too late," Tao said. "But it is a necessary step to stop those who are still looking ... to develop by reclaiming land."

After a nationwide environmental inspection last year, a number of coastal provinces were accused of lax supervision in granting reclamation projects.

In a report on the southern resort island of Hainan, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said land reclamation projects that ended up damaging fragile coral reefs and the coastal ecosystem have been approved.


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