Small shops in Beijing razed in drive to limit population

Tonglihou Street gets dismantled by a bulldozer.

Beijing has been tearing down small shops and businesses in a bid to combat "urban diseases", as the Chinese capital plans to limit its population at the 23 million level by 2020 by evicting the migrants to the surrounding cities and towns.

Recently, the clean-up campaign hit the city's Sanlitun area, a nightlife destination famous for its bars, restaurants and street vendors, where all kinds of illegally extended buildings, almost all used for small businesses, on Tonglihou Street were razed to the ground, covering a combined area of some 1,000 square meters.

Zhao Yong, the head of the Sanlitun enforcement team, was quoted by the Beijing Youth Daily as saying that the demolition of the street, dubbed as the "Dirty Bar Street" for its hubbub, was aimed at beautifying the street and reducing the potential safety risks, as many homeowners unlawfully changed the building structure by knocking down walls to add more rental space for shopkeepers, some of whom engaged in unlicensed business activities and erected advertising boards without government approval.

The sweeping demolition campaign will lead to the closure of many small shops and businesses throughout Beijing including those located on some major streets around the Palace Museum in central Beijing, Cai Ying, an official from the urban construction department of the Donghuamen street, said, according to a report in the Beijing Daily.

The most recent figures released in 2011 showed that small shops and businesses made up 35 percent of Beijing's economy but only 7.5 percent of the city's tax revenues.

Although officials said that the aim of demolishing the small shops and businesses is to face-lift Beijing, the move is widely associated with the government's mission to reducing the capital's permanent population, as policymakers are planning to move some of the non-capital functions out of Beijing as a part of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei coordinated development strategy.

According to data released by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Statistics, the permanent population of Beijing amounted to 21.7 million at the end of 2016, representing an increase of 24,000 people from 2015.

A migrant worker, who ran breakfast business in Beijing, said that he was forced to go back to his hometown of Hebei province after his stall got steamrolled by a city renovation drive. Now, he has returned to Beijing because he found it harder to make a living in his hometown.

In March, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning and Land and Resources Management outlined the capital's overall plan for the 2016-2030 period. According to the plan, Beijing's permanent population will be limited at 23 million by 2020 and its land for rural and urban construction will be reduced to 2,760 square kilometers by 2030.

Beijing's leaders have attributed the deterioration of the "urban diseases" to the uncontrollably fast growth of the population, which has aggravated traffic congestion, water supply shortage and environmental pollution, saying that it has badly hampered the city to fully play its role as the capital.

However, many citizens in Beijing have sniffed at the capital's efforts to control the population, voicing concerns that the disappearance of migrant workers would paralyze the city because many daily services such as catering and express delivery are almost entirely provided by non-locals.

Last year, Beijing introduced a points-based permanent residency policy to raise the threshold for migrants who want to apply for a Beijing hukou, as it stepped up efforts to control the rising population. A permanent residency allows a Beijing resident access to the city's excellent public services including healthcare, education and pensions.

But some experts said that the points-based residency permit system is discriminatory against the migrants with poor educational background, citing the fact that it is still badly in favor of the top talents who receive good education and pay more taxes. They further pointed out that one key solution to the capital's population problem is to enhance the economic levels of the surrounding cities and towns so as to create more jobs that can be taken by migrant workers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious decision to establish the Xiongan New Area in Hebei province appears to be an answer to these experts' call. The Xiongan New Area, which is described as "a strategy crucial for a millennium to come", is hailed as a significant measure to cure severe "urban diseases" in Beijing by curbing the capital's rapid population growth and moving some non-essential facilities including manufacturing and logistics to the nearby regions.

According to a circular issued by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, the move will help phase out the non-capital functions, explore a new way for the optimized development in the densely populated areas and restructure the urban layout in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.

Since the announcement of the marvelous national strategy, many enterprises have begun setting eyes on the Xiongan New Area, mulling a relocation to the special economic zone, which President Xi aims to transform into a new innovation hub brimming with technology firms, universities and research institutes as well as world-class transportation and business infrastructure.

"To some extent, the Xiongan New Area can partly serve as a sub-capital of China, which can help Beijing solve its urban ills and other fundamental problems," said an economist from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who refused to be named.

The economist added that the establishment of the Xiongan New Area heralds the implementation of China's new round of reforms, which will involve industrial upgrade, property adjustment and production capacity cut.

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