In China, political ambition comes at a monumental cost

Sun Nov 4, 2012 9:51pm GMT

By Michael Martina

TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - Dong Zizhou casts his fishing net from the shore and fixes his gaze on a stand of 15 unfinished skyscrapers rising like concrete skeletons beside the Hai River, heralding China's ambition to develop the world's largest financial centre.

The towers in Tianjin's Yujiapu Financial District, and two dozen others on the opposite side of the river, are monuments to the transformation of this once-rundown northern city of 13 million into the country's fastest growing region last year.

They are also a testament to Tianjin's political boss, Zhang Gaoli, whose economic record has marked him out as a rising star of China's communist leadership, a leading candidate to join its supreme decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee.

But locals such as Dong, whose house was torn down to make way for the towers, have doubts that the vast sums of money being pumped into the project have been well spent.

"I look at this and it seems like the country is investing too much," Dong, a 62-year-old retired electrician, said as he used a winch to lower a wide, hooped net into the river's grey waters. "Everyone has a loan these days. But average people, we don't understand where this money comes from."

Many experts share Dong's scepticism.

For some of them, Zhang's investment drive in Tianjin is as much a political statement as an economic one - an example of the monumental cost of forging a political career in a one-party state where economic growth, not votes, is a measure of success.

In the past three years alone, the government has poured more than $160 billion (100 billion pounds) into the development zone housing Yujiapu, almost three times the amount spent on China's Three Gorges Dam, one of the nation's most expensive projects.   Continued...

Residents fish with nets on the banks of the Hai River in Tianjin's Binhai New Area, where the government is building its Yujiapu financial center October 23, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Martina
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