Blue skies and everything nice

Enjoying the quiet: A local resident riding on a bike near the West Lake area which will be closed except for residents and working staff for the summit.

Hangzhou: Factories have been closed to ensure blue skies, potential troublemakers detained and a quarter of the residents have left: welcome to Hangzhou, a city China’s ruling party is determined will look its best for the G20 summit.

From fines for hanging out laundry to restrictions on rice, Beijing seeks to ensure participants in the global pow-wow will leave with a glowing impression of their host nation.

Few summit watchers expect policy fireworks when leaders from the world’s biggest economies gather in the city for talks aimed at breathing life into still-sluggish growth.

But China’s image-sensitive rulers see the meeting as a chance to showcase their country’s emergence as a global powerhouse.

And they are taking no chances.

More than two million of the city’s nine million citizens are expected to leave, state media say, many enticed by free trips offered by government-run tour firms and taking advantage of a week-long paid vacation employers have been ordered to give them.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in construction jobs or working for small businesses have already departed.

“Most migrants have gone home,” said a man surnamed Hou, who runs a small shop that is now shuttered, along with most nearby restaurants.

In an effort to reduce the smog that often chokes eastern China, restrictions extend far beyond the city.

Factories within a 300km radius of the city – the heartland of China’s textile industry – have to shut down for 12 days.

Even in Shanghai – some 200km away – 255 factories have been shuttered.

“Many plants like us are closed,” a woman in her 50s who works for a sock ma­­nufacturer in the nearby city of Datang said.

“I heard the meeting is only for two days. This is all for China’s image?”

Described as the “most beautiful and elegant city in the world” by 13th-century traveller Marco Polo, Hangzhou’s island-dotted West Lake has been celebrated by Chinese artists for centuries.

Now, the area is under tight police control, with uniformed officers on every street and rigorous security checks involving x-rays for anyone seeking to come close to the water.

“Police are checking IDs on subways, buses and on streets.

“There are helicopters patrolling the sky, buzzing all day long,” a worker at a local Internet company said.

Others were enjoying the quiet. “It’s quite nice to drive with so few cars on the street,” said student Shao Tianyu.

Posters urging locals to “support the G20” and be a “civilised Hangzhou resident” dot the streets.

Inside apartment compounds, notices announce bans on setting off fireworks and flying remote controlled drones.

“It is forbidden to hang clothes to dry on balconies within this compound” one poster said, threatening a fine of up to 1,000 yuan (RM612).

The preparations are even having an impact on dinner tables.

After a top official declared last month that “not one single grain of unsafe rice” would enter Hangzhou for the summit, the staple saw big price rises, one local grain supplier said.

Representatives from several large European charities will be staying away after failing to secure accreditation.

“Without accreditation it would be just sightseeing,” said Gerd Leipold of environmental campaign group Climate Transparency.

In other countries the summit has been a flashpoint for protesters hoping to bring their cause to a global audience. — AFP

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