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Mon, Oct 30, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Crime grows with economy in south China

BAD FOR BUSINESS Guangdong police handled 67,596 cases of theft last year, up 45 percent from 2004, while also dealing with 54,111 cases of assault, up 12 percent

AFP , DONGGUAN, CHINA

Songshan Lake, a new high-tech area on the outskirts of the southern city of Dongguan, aims to have everything Dongguan itself lacks -- fresh air, lots of green zones and crime-free streets.

Backed by ample amounts of government cash, Songshan Lake hopes to lure the super league of international businesses with a promise that security guards and closed-circuit cameras will guarantee law and order.

"We only want high-quality people to settle down here," said Chen Xiaohui (陳曉慧), the director of Songshan Lake's economy and trade development bureau. "We want to create a low-crime, safe and cozy environment."

Dongguan, a once rural county that has grown rich and urbanized on the back of Taiwan and Hong Kong money, is a completely different story.

Local entrepreneurs say, only half-jesting, that it is unwise to use a cellphone in public, because a pickpocket will have grabbed it in a matter of minutes.

It is impossible to give even a rough estimate of the cost to business from petty crime like this, but executives complain it gives the city a bad name and makes clients more reluctant to visit.

"I have customers here who were robbed," said David Yang, the general manager of Finnish telecom equipment maker Elcoteq's plant in Dongguan.

"You get this reputation. People say, `Dongguan, that's a scary place.' And in this kind of business, you always have customers visit," he said.

While Dongguan may stand out, it is merely indicative of what appears, based on official statistics, to be a general rise in crime in Guangdong Province, southern China's industrial powerhouse.

The provincial police handled a total 67,596 cases of theft last year, up 45 percent from the year before, while also dealing with 54,111 cases of assault, up 12 percent, according to government data.

In the city of Shenzhen, an hour's drive from Dongguan, officials call the task of maintaining public security "arduous."

"We have many people arriving from outside the city, which makes city management difficult," said Shenzhen Vice Mayor Zhang Siping (張思平). "Fighting crime is a pretty heavy responsibility for us."

Crime has been fueled by the province's spectacular boom, which has seen annual GDP per capita grow from 480 yuan (US$60) to more than 16,000 yuan in the past generation.

"We attract talent from all over China, and we also attract thieves from all over China," a local official said.

In Dongguan, the most common offense is committed by motorcycle gangs who ride by pedestrians and snatch their handbags and cellphones.

Now, the Dongguan authorities have adopted a radical approach to solving this particular issue.

They have banned motorcycles registered outside the city since July, and from next September all motorcycles will be prohibited within city limits, regardless of where they are registered.

Even though some might argue that "motorbikes don't steal, people do," citizens in Dongguan say the measure has actually worked. One of them is Joan Zhang, an executive at Yulan Wallcoverings.

"Before July, crime was a problem, but since July there has been a clear improvement in the situation," said Zhang, herself a victim of a botched bag robbery.

Street crime is endemic in all big cities in China's freewheeling south. In Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, a special 500-strong unit of armed police is scheduled to start patrols this fall.

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