China airs its dirty laundry

Cancan Chu/Getty Images Despite ambitious schemes from Beijing, most of China continues to sink into an environmental abyss. “2006 has been the most grim year for China’s environmental situation,” laments Pan Yue, a vice minister at China’s state environmental agency. More interesting, however, is the fact that Pan and other ministers are speaking up at ...

604941_china_pollution_05.jpg
604941_china_pollution_05.jpg

Cancan Chu/Getty Images

Despite ambitious schemes from Beijing, most of China continues to sink into an environmental abyss. "2006 has been the most grim year for China's environmental situation," laments Pan Yue, a vice minister at China's state environmental agency.

More interesting, however, is the fact that Pan and other ministers are speaking up at all. Initiatives from the central government in China often produce claims of rousing success, regardless of the actual results on the ground. Senior official from President Hu Jintao on down have been making noise about halting environmental degradation for some time, but they have been unable to bring along the provincial and business leaders that could actually do something about the problem. Local bigwigs in China have far more power than is usually understood, and they know they're judged by their success in fostering economic growth and jobs, not by the number of environmental clean-ups and tree-plantings they organize.



Cancan Chu/Getty Images

Despite ambitious schemes from Beijing, most of China continues to sink into an environmental abyss. “2006 has been the most grim year for China’s environmental situation,” laments Pan Yue, a vice minister at China’s state environmental agency.

More interesting, however, is the fact that Pan and other ministers are speaking up at all. Initiatives from the central government in China often produce claims of rousing success, regardless of the actual results on the ground. Senior official from President Hu Jintao on down have been making noise about halting environmental degradation for some time, but they have been unable to bring along the provincial and business leaders that could actually do something about the problem. Local bigwigs in China have far more power than is usually understood, and they know they’re judged by their success in fostering economic growth and jobs, not by the number of environmental clean-ups and tree-plantings they organize.

Now, however, criticisms of the environmental costs of that approach are appearing in Communist Party newspapers, online discussion posts, and statements by senior leaders like Pan Yue. That the conflict is spilling into the public domain suggests that China has become so environmentally degraded that top Party officials see a threat to their twin obsessions: growth and stability. But it won’t be until you can really get ahead in the Communist Party by going green that the central leadership will be able to do much more than complain.

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