China is sparing no effort to ensure its first-ever G20 summit passes off perfectly, enforcing measures to close factories, offer English lessons to elderly residents and even a $1.5-billion giveaway to get some to leave town.
China is determined to impress the leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies due to attend the Sept 4-5 summit in the eastern city of Hangzhou, whose lakefront scenery has inspired generations of painters and poets. Preparations range from a ban on flights by drones, or model aircraft sent aloft by hobbyists, to restrictions on the guests hotels may host, besides nearly 700 projects to refurbish expressways and waterworks.
Among the residents enthusiastic to help during the summit is retiree Yu Huier, 74, who plans to use her newly acquired English skills to help visitors find their way around her neighbourhood. “If I see President Obama, I will say ‘Welcome to Hangzhou!'” she told Reuters, unfurling a list of English phrases handed out by community officials that included remarks such as “Hangzhou is paradise” and “You are handsome”.
Feelings range from glee to annoyance over the efforts to get ready the city of 9 million people, home to Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holdings, and highly polluting industries such as steel and textiles.
“The whole city has become a huge building site,” said Quan Hao, a 24-year-old information technology worker, who bemoaned the scaffolding and fences crowding many streets. “We have suffered from the dust and traffic for almost a year.” Foreign dignitaries will be the first to enjoy many of the improvements, however.
In a notice seen by Reuters, police have ordered hotels around the city’s scenic West Lake to accept only summit-related bookings in the three weeks to Sept. 7, even if this means having to turn away tourists in the usually busy summer. Authorities have declared a week-long holiday for the summit, and the government is giving away travel vouchers worth 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) to encourage city residents to visit tourist attractions elsewhere and to reduce congestion, regional media have said.
“It’s painful to look for a place to live,” said university student Xu Hailun, who passed on a summer internship after plans to rent a flat in Hangzhou fell through four times, because of a police crackdown on short-term leases. About 250 factories in surrounding provinces have been ordered to shut from Aug. 24 to Sept. 6, a move reminiscent of Beijing’s efforts to banish smog from its skies during the APEC summit of 2014 and the 2008 Olympics.
One taxi-driver said he would use the travel vouchers to leave during the summit, provided he got time off. “The main roads will be blocked,” lamented the man, who gave only his surname, Yao. “We’ll have no business during the summit.”