While the country is slowing its high-cost economic growth, Yunnan, a green jewel on China's southwest frontier, is seeking a unique path of development that is efficient and environmentally friendly.
Yunnan was nominated by the National Development and Reform Commission as one of the five pilot provinces to test China's promise to build a greener economy. The selected provinces were asked to build low-carbon features into their 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) for both the industrial sector and consumption patterns.
Qin Guangrong, governor of Yunnan province, believes the policy provides a well-timed strategic opportunity for Yunnan's future development.
"We've insisted on establishing Yunnan as an ecologically-oriented province, and trying to achieve maximum economic and social benefits with minimum resource consumption," Qin told China Daily.
"Sometimes, we'd rather sacrifice a little economic growth for a better environment.
"Yunnan has one of the best-protected environments in China. It functions as a vital defense for our nation's ecosystem. We treasure it as much as our eyes."
Qin highlighted the protection of water resources, species diversity and forest coverage.
A total of 152 nature reserves occupy 7 percent of Yunnan's area, while 70 percent of its waters are suitable for drinking, swimming and fishing. With half of its land forested, Yunnan is believed to have bred 50 percent of all species in China.
"Meanwhile we're in the upper reaches of some major international rivers, and are responsible for the region's ecological safety," Qin added.
Yunnan's gross domestic product per capita in 2010 was reportedly 15,000 yuan ($2,280), slightly more than half of the national average.
According to Qin, the province is hoping to double that figure by the end of 2015, with at least 10 percent year-on-year growth, while increasing the urbanization rate to 45 percent. Facing the dichotomy of protection and development, Qin stressed that the key is to carry out a sustainable strategy while eliminating unbalanced development in some areas.
"While continuing to hammer at energy saving and emission reduction, we will vigorously explore solar and biomass energy," Qin said, adding that the construction of photovoltaic power stations and biomass raw material bases are already in preparation.
To supply technical support for these projects, Qin has called for enhancing the province's ability to innovate, and asked companies to double their proportion of research and development in the next five years.
Tourism, as the greenest industry, is also on Yunnan's economy-boosting list. The number of tourists arriving over the next five years is expected to double to 250 million, with revenue of 200 billion yuan ($30 billion).
In response to the lagging development in ethnic communities, Qin revealed that 56 billion yuan will be spent to improve conditions for the ethnic groups, who make up one-third of the province's 45 million population. Traffic construction and application of clean energy are among the key projects on schedule.
"The last 10 years have been dramatic for Yunnan, as we've benefited from the Western Development strategy and more changes are yet to come in the next five years," Qin said. "But one thing will remain - we'll still have clear water and blue sky."