IN APRIL, the central authorities announced a plan to turn Hainan province into the world's largest free trade zone. The province is also being encouraged to develop a sports lottery, alongside beach and water sports, and horse racing. Not surprisingly, an equestrian fervor has followed. Beijing News comments:
A pig farm applied to the local government to start a horse racing project just three days after the central authorities' announcement.
Although the Hainan government said it is still drafting a plan to develop horse racing sports, partially to cool down the investment in related industries, the island has seen more than 30 horse racing enterprises and at least 10 horse-culture towns or parks founded since April.
Some State-owned enterprises directly under the administration of the Hainan government have also been involved in some of the new businesses and projects.
Hainan has many more important things to do in its next round of reform and opening-up, in which the sports lottery and horse racing are only small parts. However, the attention and the investment focused on horse racing are worrisome as there has been almost no news about Hainan's progress or actions aimed at advancing urgent and difficult reforms that it cannot sidestep if it is to become a world-class free trade zone.
The horse racing industry boomed in Hainan in mid 1980s, and quickly declined in the early 1990s after the central authorities banned it because of its close relation to gambling. Many race courses built on farmland have turned into real estate plots and some have been left wild.
Hainan should show more prudence and foresight in planning the industry's growth. Developed in the industry, Hong Kong only has two horse race courses. If unchecked, the horse racing fervor in Hainan will quickly waste valuable farmland, as the mountainous island cannot sustain so many race courses.