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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Sustaining the Unsustainable

The question of the reality and sustainability of China's growth continues to be an ever present topic of debate, this piece from James Kynge is revealing, and seems to stick to the 'fair and balanced'.

THE name Wuhu means reed lake. And until the mid-1990s, it seemed an apt description for an urban backwater on the Yangtze River, distinguished by little except a crumbling, mildewed cathedral built long ago by the British. But over the past five years, largely unnoticed, Wuhu - the second city in Anhui, a poor central province - has been seized by the type of transformation that is driving China's economic expansion. The process is not pretty. Youthful labour is consumed amid a clash of steel; jobless girls are forced into prostitution; the intellectual property of foreigners is stolen; and the gulf between rich and poor grows wider. But the combination of energy, suffering and guile has brought results.

Wuhu is now served by four expressways, a bridge over the Yangtze and a busy port, all built or expanded since 1998. About 250 million people - equal almost to the population of the United States - can be reached within 10 hours, says Mr Chen Xiaosu, Wuhu's Deputy Mayor. Its new-found accessibility has sired an investment boom. Makers of car parts from the US and Europe have set up shop. Midea, the world's biggest maker of air-conditioners, recently moved a factory to Wuhu from near Hong Kong because of lower labour costs. Mr Yoshii Jiro, the local boss of Hitachi, another recent arrival, says Wuhu provides the lowest costs anywhere for the Japanese multinational.

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