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Fri Sep 3, 2004, 2:13 AM ET

BEIJING, (AFP) - China expects to have 140 million automobiles plying its roads by 2020, seven times more than now, fueling demand for transportation infrastructure and services, state media reports.

Li Xinghua, deputy director of the Communication Ministry's Comprehensive Planning Department, predicted that China's auto population would eventually reach around 250 million, or about 150 cars per 1,000 people.

Government statistics show that China produced a record four million autos in 2003, when the number of private cars grew by 80 percent thanks to the country's strong economic advance and growing middle class.

It is estimated that this year's production will top five million units, making China the world's third-largest auto manufacturer after the United States and Japan.

That demand has been coupled with the unveiling of ambitious expansion plans by both international and domestic auto players.

Xinhua news agency cited Li as saying the fast growth of the auto industry was putting increasing pressure on transportation infrastructure and fixing the discrepancy was the top task for the ministry.

Chinese vice minister of communications Weng Mengyong said his office would adopt "substantial, effective approaches" in the construction of major national freeways to connect most Chinese cities to cope with the number of cars.

He predicted that the current construction of highways between provinces in western China, as well as those in the Yangtze River Delta in the east and Pearl River Delta in the south would be completed by 2010.

Statistics from the ministry show that China has already built a 30,000 kilometre (18,600 mile) network of highways, the second longest in the world.

Market analysts cited by Xinhua said China was in the launch phase of another round of economic growth and the rapid development of the auto industry would be a major driving force.


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