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    China Business
     Jun 13, 2007
Page 1 of 2
China's dented image projects
By Wu Zhong, China Editor

HONG KONG - In China, some infrastructure projects are known as "image projects", or signature projects that are launched and built not so much for the convenience or interests of people but mainly to show off the "correct leadership" and performance of officials in charge - ie, to polish their image.

With the fall of Shanghai Communist Party secretary Chen Liangyu last September, two such "image projects" in Shanghai

have been scrapped or suspended, which further symbolizes how quickly the influence of the so-called Shanghai clique is diminishing.

The first is the project to build the world's largest Ferris wheel, the "Shanghai Star", in China's largest commercial metropolis.

As early as mid-2002, the then Shanghai government announced its plans to add a giant Ferris wheel to its ultra-modern skyline by 2005 that would overtake the London Eye as the biggest in the world.

In late 2002, Hu Jintao replaced Jiang Zemin as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and, in March 2003, Wen Jiabao replaced Zhu Rongji as the premier. Both Jiang and Zhu were former Shanghai leaders and known to have given their favored support to Shanghai's development.

In early 2004, Hu and Wen started to impose macroeconomic controls to rein in the country's economy, putting a brake on the construction of impractical, unneeded "image" projects.

But Chen was defiant of Beijing's belt-tightening policy. So after a brief period of silence, Shanghai began in early 2005 to beat the gongs again to clear the way for the construction of the Shanghai Star project. The Shanghai media declared then that the Ferris wheel was part of Shanghai's drive to become one of Asia's foremost entertainment and shopping centers.

And to further justify the plan, the giant wheel was said to be one of a series of vast construction projects to be completed in time for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. When completed in 2008, the wheel, built on top of a 50m-high entertainment complex, would spin alongside the Huangpu River, just north of the Bund waterfront.

However, three months after Chen's dismissal, Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng, who was named acting party secretary of the city immediately after Chen's fall, announced in January the cancellation of the Shanghai Star project, apparently for its "political incorrectness".

The second is the even more controversial plan to build a 35 billion yuan (US$4.58 billion), 175-kilometer high-speed magnetic-levitation (maglev) train route linking Shanghai to Hangzhou, the scenic capital city of neighboring Zhejiang province.

Shanghai now operates the world's only commercial maglev system on a 30km run between Shanghai's financial district and the city's Pudong airport. Construction of the Shanghai Maglev began in March 2001, and public service commenced on January 1, 2004.

The Shanghai Maglev could hardly be called a commercial success. Because of its unique technology, Shanghai Maglev could not be linked to the Shanghai underground mass-transit system, and as such it virtually goes nowhere. Travelers often complain that the Maglev train doesn't really drop them off anywhere convenient and they still have to take a taxi to their destinations. It is expensive - 50 yuan (US$5.40) for a one-way ticket) - which also deters potential passengers. As a result, the trains are 80% empty, making the service commercially non-viable.

Nevertheless, the Shanghai government has still been eager to build more maglev rail links to other cities.

Several years ago, when the Chinese government began to plan for a new 1,400km high-speed railway linking Beijing to Shanghai, there was a proposal to use the maglev technology, which sparked fierce debates. Specialists and Ministry of Railway officials strongly opposed the proposal because of its impracticality, high costs and high risks. In the end, the central government vetoed the proposal.

However, early last year, Beijing gave the green light to Shanghai's plan to build the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev railway, supposedly under political pressure from the Shanghai clique. The Shanghai-Hangzhou railway is more or less a local link in the Yangtze River Delta, where Shanghai holds a leading position. Construction of the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev railway, which uses German technology and is designed to run at a maximum speed of 450 km/h, was scheduled to start by the end of last year. It was generally believed that the line would be operating by 2010, when Shanghai hosts the World Expo.

However, on May 26, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev project had been suspended 

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