Lawmakers yesterday started discussions on a draft law to step up ecology and environment of the country`s offshore islands.
The draft sea islands protection law, the first of its kind in the country, was submitted to an ongoing session of the National People`s Congress Standing Committee for the first review.
It also regulates exploitation of natural reserves on China`s uninhabited islands.
The draft proposes that national and local governments should make plans to guide the protection and the development of inhabited and uninhabited islands.
The law should give details on the establishment of oceanic nature reserves and special protection zones on and around islands, as well as guidelines for the use of uninhabited islands.
All construction projects that are contradictory to ecological conservation purposes will be banned, and vegetation and indigenous species will be strictly protected, according to the draft.
All development projects on inhabited islands will be subjected to strict environmental impact assessments, according to the draft law. Construction and tourism activities on uninhabited islands, which are owned by the State, will be prohibited unless they are officially approved.
The State Oceanic Administration and its branches would be responsible for inspecting work concerning island protection, according to the draft.
Lawmakers will continue discussing the law but won`t vote on it when the ongoing legislative session ends on Saturday, as a law usually receives three reviews before being adopted in China.
China has nearly 7,000 islands bigger than 500 sq m in its roughly 3 million sq m sea areas. The country also has more than 10,000 smaller islands.
Lack of planning was a "common problem" when islands, particularly deserted ones, were developed, Wang Guangtao, director of the NPC`s environment and resource protection committee, said during yesterday`s discussion.
"Some firm`s random dumping of rubbish and toxic objects have turned some islands into refuse dumps," he said.
But even worse, explosions, usually seen in unregulated quarrying, have left deeper scars on China`s islands.
Also, the number of islands has decreased dramatically.
Since the 1990s, Wang said, 242 islands have disappeared in the waters off coastal provinces, including Liaoning, Hebei, Fujian, and Hainan.
"Random development" without planning, however, is still going on in China, according to a real-estate developer in an island near Qingdao of Shandong province.
"The biggest problem I saw was unregulated developing at the price of ecology. Some of my peer competitors had cut plenty of trees for more space for their buildings," said Liu Chang, who started his project of residential towers about five years ago there.
"We told our potential buyers the environment on the islands would be the best, but it may not be the case if such development continues," Liu said.
Liu said he would be "the happiest one" if the draft law was passed, but he also said he was concerned about how well the laws would be enforced.
Chinese experts said many things must be done in addition to just passing the new law.
"China is still exploring how to protect its offshore islands," Wang Hanling, a maritime affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, noting more follow-up bills are needed to guarantee the prospective new law`s enforcement.
The law is "aimed at protecting islands` ecological environments to stimulate sustainable development (in coastal regions)," Wang added.
South Korea and Indonesia have passed similar laws in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
Though yesterday`s discussion was the country`s first effort on the national level to create laws addressing the islands` protection, many of its coastal provinces had introduced measures long ago.
In the island province of Hainan, where more than 90 percent of its over 280 islands are deserted, a six-year-long investigation was conducted on oceanic natural resources between 1989 and 1994.
The province has also established 12 oceanic natural protection zones, protecting rare plant and animals.
Guangdong, Guangxi, and Fujian have also introduced measures to protect islands.