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NE 'ice city' to develop wetland tourism

  Already well known for its winter tourism, Harbin city in northeast Heilongjiang Province is trying to tap its reserve of wetlands to develop a summer tourism industry, local authorities said.

  Harbin's 125,000 hectares of wetland along the Songhua River features rarely-seen animals and aquatic plants amid biological and mineral resources, said Yang Jie, head of the Harbin Tourism Administration. Yang Yongxing, a professor with Tongji University College of Environmental Science and Engineering, describes the area as one of the few original urban wetlands in China with profound ecological and economic significance.

  The harmony between natural wetlands and modern cosmopolis makes Harbin unique, therefore, the development of wetland tourism must be guided by protection and preservation, said Gai Ruyin, secretary of the Harbin City Committee of the Communist Party of China.

  The protection will also contribute significantly to the betterment of the city's overall environment, said Zhang Jichun, director of the municipal environment protection bureau. Tourism in 2010 made up 10 percent of the city's gross domestic product, with the majority of tourists coming for the abundant snow and ice. But it is also an alluring destination for a summer getaway, as it has cooler temperatures while most of the country endures scorching summers.

  The wetlands could serve as primary attraction to worldwide tourists in summer, Gai Ruying said. The development of a summer tourism industry would also enable the millions of people who live across the Songhua River to make money and improve their quality of life, Gai said. Sun Guangyou, a researcher with the Northeast Institute of Geography and Agroecology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, calls for a refinement of tourism that combines economic, social and ecological interests.

  As of now, Harbin has passed municipal legislation that prioritizes safeguarding the environment and champions sustainable development in a coordinated and systematic manner.

  "The Songhua River wetlands are an invaluable treasure bestowed upon Harbin by nature," Gai Ruying said, vowing that the city will stress scientific development to balance short-term needs with a long-term strategy.