This week, President Xi Jinping paid a visit to the Saihanba National Forest Park, a planted forest covering 200km2 on the border of Hebei province and Inner Mongolia. This is Xi’s first visit to the site, known as the “Green Lung of North China”, since his 2017 instruction on “learning the spirit of Saihanba” which elevated the park to a national ecological symbol.
Before the 1960s, Saihanba was a major source of sandstorms that affected Beijing, since decades of deforestation, starting from the late Qing Dynasty, had devastated the pine forest there. Reforestation efforts began in 1962. According to one history, it took almost 60 years of trial and error and three generations of afforestation workers to build Saihanba into the world’s largest planted forest, with forest coverage recovering from 12% to 80%. The project was awarded the UN’s Champions of Earth award in 2017.
During Xi’s visit, he instructed park administrators to “safeguard the fruit of a half-century’s reforestation efforts” and “balance the need for fire prevention and tourism development.”
According to Chinese media, Xi’s latest visit signals the central place of tree planting in China’s construction of “ecological civilisation.” Since 2018, he has made at least half a dozen visits to forest reserves and tree planting sites to emphasise the need to preserve China’s ecological assets, forests, lakes, rivers and grasslands. In China’s 14th Five Year Plan, published earlier this year, the central government sets a target to further increase forest coverage to 24.1% by 2025.
While large-scale afforestation has significantly greened China’s landscapes, there are concerns over monoculture and the ecological impacts of chosen tree species. China’s afforestation strategy has evolved over the decades to respond to some of these concerns.