Prosperity for All: Anhui, Zhejiang provinces join hands to protect Xin'an River
China says it's been pursuing a green and sustainable development plan over the past decades. In the last episode of our special series, "Decoding the Common Prosperity," CGTN's Wu Bin finds out how green mountains and blue waters contribute to China's plan of ensuring common prosperity.
WU BIN Chun'an County, Zhejiang Province "I'm now surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful green mountains and blue waters. This place, known as Thousand Island Lake, is one of China's largest artificial freshwater lakes. The water here has been rated top level in China for years. What's been done to make this happen? And how does the water boost local industries and help the goal of common prosperity? In this episode, I will take you to its upstream and discover the secrets of this flowing treasure."
Xin'an River, the mother river of the Thousand Island Lake. Almost 70% of the water in the lake comes from Xin'an River. The river's water quality is extremely important to the over 300,000 people living downstream around the lake. But the management of the river requires provincial cooperation because it flows through two provinces.
WU BIN Chun'an County, Zhejiang Province "This is Xin'an River. It's managed by two provinces, Anhui and Zhejiang. Today we're going to the border area to take water samples."
We followed a joint team to take samples. They have been doing this every month for the past 10 years. In 2012, Anhui and Zhejiang made a deal, initiating China's first mechanism on cross-provincial ecological compensation.
The rules are quite simple. If the water in Anhui province reaches certain standards in the annual evaluation, Zhejiang will give 100 million yuan to Anhui, and vice versa. And the mechanism works like a charm.
YU FENG Hangzhou Ecological and Environmental Monitoring Center "The water quality of the current inflow to the Thousand Island Lake is basically stable. Through the efforts of the two provinces, the water quality can reach grade II or above, meaning it's drinkable after purification and disinfection."
For a long time, China has been working to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection.
In 2005, president Xi Jinping, who was the secretary of Zhejiang Provincial CPC Committee, said during an inspection tour of Huzhou city that "Green mountains and blue waters are mountains of gold and silver." This has come to be known as the "Two Mountains" concept and has been guiding Zhejiang's development plan ever since.
Taking the protection of Xin'an River for example, Zhejiang has given millions of yuan to Anhui under the mechanism since 2012. But has the plan paid off?
FANG BISHENG Department of Culture, Tourism, Sports, Radio and Television, Chun'an County "The Xin'an River is our mother river. The Thousand Island Lake is our mother lake. It is because of this clear water that the tourism of the county has developed over the decades. Now the tourism value added accounts for 12.79% of our GDP."
With over 40 years of development, the Thousand Island Lake has become a name card for the county. In 2021, despite Covid-19, over 9.3 million people visited the county and its tourism revenue reached 15.4 billion yuan about 60% of its GDP. It has also created jobs. Fang says 20% of the county's population is engaged in tourism-related industries.
WU BIN Chun'an County, Zhejiang Province "Apart from tourism, the water industry is also booming in Chun'an. You may have heard of Nongfu Spring, one of China's largest bottled water suppliers. Its major water resource is the Thousand Island Lake. Chun'an has also attracted 23 beverage companies, generating 768 million yuan, or about 112 million US dollars of revenue for the government in 2021 alone."
The water in the Thousand Island Lake has been rated grade I for years. That's the highest grade in China's 5-tier system and means the water is drinkable just after simple purification.
ZHENG XIAOFENG President, Hangzhou Cheerday Brewery Co., Ltd. "More than 1,000 of our employees and their families depend on this water for their livelihood. It is because of the water that we are able to offer better products to more consumers. In fact, the reason that some well-known domestic brands came to Thousand Island Lake is because of the water here."
It was in 1996, when the first bottled water company was established here. But the business grew extremely fast after the water in the region became famous across China for its good quality. Now, the water industry has become another pillar industry for the county. It generated 10 billion yuan in revenues last year alone. And the county has more ambitious goals for the future.
YANG JIANGEN Secretary, Chun'an County's Communist Party of China Committee "As a mountainous county, Chun'an is the only ecological reserve in Zhejiang Province. We always work to expand our healthy water industry, boost tourism, and focus on agricultural products and forest economy. We aim to achieve an output value of 20 billion yuan in the water industry and 20 billion yuan in tourism revenue by 2025."
Chun'an has found the flowing treasures of Xi'an River by combining environmental protection and economic development. This is just one of the many examples of China's green development path, which has already become a leading principle for its modernization process.
Economic growth and ecological protection are not an "either-or" question. What China pursues is a common path for both to develop because green mountains and blue waters are indeed mountains of gold and silver.