Taihu Lake becomes prime vacation, development zone

Updated: Nov 1, 2022 China Daily Print
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Area boasts a profound history and cultural heritage, and is one of the most distinctive tourism destinations in Suzhou

An old Chinese saying goes something like this, "there is paradise in heaven as there are Suzhou and Hangzhou on Earth".In Suzhou, the city's natural beauty mostly comes from picturesque Taihu Lake, China's third-largest freshwater lake.

Suzhou in East China's Jiangsu province was approved by the State Council in October 1992 to construct the Taihu National Tourism Vacation Zone, which became one of the first 12 national tourist resorts in China.

The vacation zone is located 15 kilometers southwest of the city's old town, with a convenient transportation system covering water, road, railway and air travel.

With the opening of rail transit line 5 at the end of June in 2021, the zone has been further integrated into the main urban areas of Suzhou.

Over years of development, the jurisdiction of the Taihu vacation zone has expanded from 11.2 square kilometers to almost 269 sq km, with a permanent resident population of 209,000.

A good ecological environment is fundamental to the development of the zone. By June, the zone had 6,660 mu (444 hectares) of wetlands, and is home to 195 bird species.

The water area of the zone is 921.05 sq km, accounting for 55.7 percent of the city's total. It also has 112.77 sq km of mountain and forest areas, and 118.81 sq km of green spaces.

The vegetation coverage rate in the zone reaches 44.18 percent.

As a cradle of Wu culture, which values morality, literature, pragmatism and innovation, the Taihu vacation zone boasts a profound history and cultural heritage, and is one of the most distinctive cultural tourism destinations in Suzhou.

It now has the six 5A, the nation's highest-level scenic spots, one national forest park, one national modern agriculture demonstration park and two national geoparks.

The zone also houses two State-level famous historic and cultural towns, 12 traditional Chinese villages, and six national key cultural protection units.

It boasts a total of 96 national and provincial masters of arts and crafts, as well as intangible cultural heritage inheritors at all levels in such sectors as Su embroidery and jade, Buddha statue and redwood carving.

More than 10,000 people are engaged in making and selling related handicrafts, with an annual output value of more than 1 billion yuan ($136.8 million).

The zone was awarded by Suzhou as an advanced area to promote high-quality development from 2019 to 2021.

It has also won honorary titles such as a China Sports Tourism Destination and National All-region Tourism Demonstration Area.

Since 2021, the vacation zone has adhered to industry-oriented and innovation-driven concepts in construction planning.

It has implemented development plans driven by culture and tourism, and science and technology by leveraging major strategies of the Yangtze River Delta region's integration and the building of a sci-tech innovation cluster around Taihu Lake.

It has also strived to build itself into a national benchmark for green ecological innovation practices, and entered a new stage of high-quality development. In 2020, the Suzhou government made the decision to construct Taihu Lake Ecological Island, an ambitious development based on Xishan Island in the freshwater lake.

It covers a total area of 800 sq km, mainly in Jinting town, Wuzhong district.

In 2021, the district made the construction of the ecological island the top priority for the whole region, and Jiangsu also included the construction into the province's overall development during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).

The construction of Taihu Lake Ecological Island is the biggest and best opportunity in the history of the vacation zone, which has been strongly supported by the nation, province and the city, said the zone's administrative committee.

Since its launch, Suzhou has been steadily making progress in island construction.

By June, the Taihu Lake Ecological Island Development Plan (2021-35) was officially released, and 11 of the 22 key projects had started construction, with a total investment of 298 million yuan.

The island has become the first venue of its kind in China to be a demonstration site of autonomous driving services, according to Baidu Apollo, an open autonomous driving platform.

It will put into use self-driving sightseeing buses, automated cars that people can book online, and unmanned vehicles for cleaning or vending purposes. Smart parking solutions will also be introduced on the island, Baidu said. Baidu Apollo has already applied self-driving programs in cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Changsha.

China will also establish an ecological compensation mechanism in the Taihu Lake basin to speed up water environment improvement and foster the integrated ecological governance of the area.

A related demonstration center has already been set up on the island.

The ecological compensation mechanism will be basically completed by 2023, setting a model for the comprehensive and coordinated treatment of water environments.

The coordinated, systematic and holistic governance of the Taihu Lake basin will have improved markedly by then, according to a guideline released by the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the Ministry of Water Resources. At the beginning of this year, Wuzhong officially launched the No 1 Road around Taihu Lake, with a total length of 186 km and linking a series of scenic spots in the district.

Nearly 75 percent of the road is covered by the vacation zone.

Hu Zhihui, deputy director of Wuzhong bureau of culture, sports and tourism, said: "The district will promote the development of cultural and tourism industries and form a cultural and creative industry cluster, in a bid to build the No 1 Road into a must-see tourism destination around Taihu Lake and a place to experience Jiangnan culture."

In 2021, the Taihu vacation zone saw 10.96 million trips made by tourists, and generated tourism revenue of 16.88 billion yuan, up 29 percent year-on-year.

In 2021, at the Yangtze River Delta Region Integrated Development Forum, Shanghai and provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui signed a contract on building a sci-tech innovation cluster around Taihu Lake.

In fact, as early as 2009, the general plan of Taihu Science and Technology Industrial Park was approved by the Suzhou government.

After 13 years of development, the sci-tech innovation industry is becoming a strong driving force for the development of the zone.

Taihu Bay Digital Science and Technology Park and Taihu Headquarters Economic Park have been constructed during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. The launch of the sci-tech innovation cluster around Taihu Lake provides a great opportunity for the zone to accelerate the gathering of innovation resources and build a first-class innovation center, officials said.

The zone's next step will focus on cultivating intelligent network connection and ecological and environmental protection.

Investment attraction is another highlight of the zone in the future, and it will also continue to improve services for companies.

In 2021, the zone built Taihu Science Industries Park, Taihu Bay Digital Science and Technology Park and Taihu Headquarters Economic Park, focused on boosting such sectors as intelligent manufacturing, digital industry, headquarters economy and attracted key projects established by companies including Baidu, JD, China Three Gorges Corp and New Hope Group.

Last year, the zone's GDP reached 13.35 billion yuan, up 7.3 percent year-on-year. Its fixed-asset investment stood at 10.45 billion yuan, up 25 percent year-on-year and the industrial output value above designated size was 11.08 billion yuan, up 20.4 percent year-on-year.

In addition to pursuing economic growth, the Taihu vacation zone has made more efforts to improve people's livelihoods.

For example, the zone has built several schools including kindergartens, primary and technical secondary schools, improved preschool education and balanced resources between urban and rural areas.

The nine-year compulsory education system has been continuously promoted in Jinting town.

Three new commercial complexes have been finished or are under construction, and several city roads have also been renovated.

[Photo/China Daily]

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