Chinese Communists Subsidize Ghost Town Construction

(p. C3) In China’s Inner Mongolia province, in the middle of the Gobi desert, row upon row of largely vacant apartment towers line the streets of Kangbashi, a new district of the city of Ordos. Earlier this month, Xu Yongfen and his family moved into one 28-story building. In the hallways there are a few signs of life–tricycles, slippers and pink children’s shoes in front of some doors. But most apartments remain unoccupied, their doors still covered in plastic wrap, and at street level, barren storefronts are visible in all directions. “This area is nearly totally empty,” Mr. Xu says, tapping a cigarette into a bowl of ashes at his dining room table.
The city has spent 14 years planning, erecting and maintaining Kangbashi, which has the distinction of being one of China’s best-known “ghost towns”–gleaming but sparsely populated new urban centers adjacent to older metropolises. Built by the dozen across the country, the new areas reflect–and were meant to accelerate–China’s economic boom. As the country’s growth has slowed, many of them have become serious liabilities, deep in debt, with little prospect of full occupancy anytime soon.
. . .
Many of China’s other ghost towns have yet to figure out how to jumpstart their economies without slipping back into the old pattern of borrowing and building. To become economically viable, some may take 20 or 30 years, or “maybe even forever,” said Zhou Jiangping, a professor of urban planning at the University of Hong Kong. In some cases, Mr. Zhou said, local officials encouraged ambitious plans to advance their own careers: “You see all these empty towns, these areas at the edge of cities. They may symbolize the power of some officials.” Because many of them then move on to other jobs, he said, they didn’t think about ensuring long-term growth.
. . .
Ordos City Investment Real Estate Development Co. recently resumed work on two housing projects that it had set aside five years ago, including Mr. Xu’s complex. “Kangbashi’s real-estate sales improved, so our company decided to restart construction,” said Wang Tianyong, a branch manager, noting that the government’s subsidy program favors new projects.

For the full story, see:
Dominique Fong. “China’s Ghost Towns Haunt Its Economy.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): C3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018.)

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