Security restrictions and a week off work: How China re-engineered Hangzhou to host for the G20 summit

Don't they look lovely. Image: Getty.

Last month, China hosted the G20 summit in its eastern city of Hangzhou. It was a fitting location for the leaders of the world’s 20 leading economies (19 countries and the EU) to meet. Famed for its beauty, Hangzhou is also a key part of one of China’s most entrepreneurial areas, Zhejiang province, and a vital contributor to the country’s exports and GDP. Suffice to say, Hangzhou and Zhejiang count for a lot in China.

What was more important to the Chinese government was that it shows itself in the best light at the summit. Hangzhou was an ancient capital of China and is now one of its most innovative cities, so it perfectly embodies China’s ideal combination of tradition and technology. Intent on establishing further its emergence as a global power, China wants to showcase this to the world at the G20. And, as a Hangzhou resident, I’ve witnessed some interesting changes in the city over the last couple of months.

Security was at a maximum around the city – to a level never seen before. Since July, several weeks before the summit, access to the whole city has been only via a few check-points that have been set up at all entry points. Some Muslim minorities from China’s western province of Xinjiang have even been banned from their workplaces.

Many foreigners have been repeatedly questioned by the police, who have made frequent and unannounced visits to their homes to ensure they pose no risk to the success of the event. In China, there is often a bit of suspicion towards foreigners who, semi-jokingly, are sometimes thought of as spies of Western governments. More pragmatically, China wants to avoid the protests that often occur at big international summits, and which are often associated with Western students.

High security. Image: EPA.

City in shutdown

Businesses were widely affected by the summit, too. A number of commercial outlets have been closed for a month; larger shop owners and shopping malls have received some compensation, but smaller independents were “invited” to close and were given, in some cases, nominal compensation (€100 at most) as a sign of gratitude. Large factories, a major cause of pollution in the city, were shut down for two months.

Everyone in the city was given a week off. Most stayed at home or went away on a trip, as there was nowhere and no way to go anywhere within the city. I have some friends working for a state-owned company who practised singing for a planned performance in front of the G20 attendees. In other words, the whole city – of 9m people – was reorganised in the manner of the video game SimCity. The outcome: a blue-sky, accident- and protest-free weekend in Hangzhou for Obama & Co.

I have heard numerous complaints by ordinary people whose daily lives have been disrupted and many businesses have lost money. But there is a positive side. The city has been entirely renovated, the construction of the city’s subway has been accelerated, motorways have been built, all the tourist areas – already very beautiful – have been given a makeover. Trees and flowers have been planted, old buildings have been restored, sewage and other hygiene systems improved.

Even though Hangzhou is one of the richest cities in China, there is still a large portion of the population, around 25 per cent, that recently has arrived from rural areas and whose living conditions lag far behind the gentrified parts of the city. Yes, the focus of renovation has been in the areas where world leaders and the media are likely to go. But positive spillover effects are all across the city and even in cities nearby.

Hangzhou’s scenic West Lake is a tourist hotspot. Image: Damien Thorne/Flickr/creative commons.

An international showcase

On balance, Chinese citizens have accepted the restrictions. They will endure short-term difficulties in exchange for long-term gains. The narrative in the Chinese media is that the G20 is a major event for China, a showcase that will further portray a positive image of China to the world – along the same lines as the Beijing Olympics of 2008, Shanghai Expo of 2010 and the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics of 2022.

For China, this is also another attempt to enhance its soft power, to be perceived as a responsible player in the international community and to take centre stage when it comes to the global economy. Indeed, China’s goals for the G20 are a greater international focus on sustainable and inclusive development for all sections of the world’s population. It has put Africa, often neglected by the West, at the top of the agenda.

For the first time, perhaps, China wants the world to remember where the G20 was held.The Conversation

Michele Geraci is head of the China Economic Policy Programme and an assistant professor in finance at the University of Nottingham.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.