Authorities in Xi'an's Weiyang district have unveiled plans to spend 12.5 billion yuan ($2.03 billion) getting the area's imperial palace listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, China Business reported recently.
The past several years have seen dozens of smaller municipalities launch nearly identical plans, often with equally sizable budgets, to get their local scenic or historic site on this prestigious list. After all, nothing brings in tourism revenue quite like a World Heritage spot.
But seeking recognition from UNESCO is not a practical goal for the majority of China's local governments.
With Weiyang's fiscal revenues totaling just 2.5 billion yuan last year, local administrators will have no choice but to borrow money from banks and local enterprises to pay for this plan. It goes without saying that this will drive the government into heavy debt and siphon off funds for civil infrastructure or social services. I urge officials in Weiyang and elsewhere to take a long and careful look at their financial abilities before chasing after costly and poorly-conceived prestige projects.
The author is Long Shu, a scholar.
Source: The Beijing News