For nearly a decade, China's burgeoning steel industry has spit out more than ten times the steel of Japan, the world's second largest producer. But that's quickly changing: As demand slows and China attempts to curb pollution, a massive recession is hitting its steel country.
Mill closures are hitting the province of Hebei—which produces roughly a quarter of the world's steel—especially hard, with dozens of mills closing within the last year. Forbes calls it "the world's next rust belt," invoking the depression that wracked American steel towns in the 1970s and 80s. According to a report in pro-Party Global Times, the central government is demanding Hebei cut back on its production, partially due to the toxic smog the region plays a major role in producing. In fact, it may have more to do with sluggish demand, says The Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch, since there has long been an overcapacity of steel mills in the country.
Image: China Photos/Getty Images.
But what's more interesting than the fluctuations of steel prices? What the local government in Hebei plans to do with all those empty, hulking steel mills. Many steel companies are shutting down mills and diversifying in pig and fish farming. And some of those mills are being razed with dynamite and demolished, in an attempt to turn them back into farmland, since many mills were built on land rented from local farmers. That approach presents it own problem—since the land beneath these plants is now deeply toxic, and totally unsuitable for farming.
It's tough not to make comparisons with America's own steel industry. I grew up in Pittsburgh, an incredibly polluted steel town that was hit hard after the mills closed down in the 1970s. It took decades for the economic depression to lift—largely thanks to the medical industry that grew up around the University of Pittsburgh. But take a drive through the Allegheny area, and you'll still find abandoned mills dot the landscape.
Images: China Photos