Pollution Is Price Worth Paying For Economic Growth, Chinese Comrades Think. But The People Beg To Differ
Gu Suhua writes from Beijing: In communist China – yes, it’s still communist, in case you thought it was a blooming free market – the comrades in charge think that pollution is a price worth paying for economic growth. Communists are like that, you know. They think big and such small matters as polluting the country don’t really concern them.
As a result, even when Beijing, for example, is blanketed in smog the authorities insist there’s nothing to worry about. Although the US embassy in the Chinese capital spoils the party mood by measuring the levels of pollution on its own equipment and rates Beijing smog as ‘hazardous’. The same story is repeated throughout the whole of the Middle Kingdom, as the Chinese like to call their mighty nation, and the communists expect their people to buy all that propaganda crap about the great advantages of economic growth over common sense. As in: better dead but with a mighty GDP.
But, despite the propaganda attitudes among the people to pollution are changing and the comrades are starting to get fidgety. More and more plants are forced to close by popular demand because of the damage they cause to people’s health and environment. In one case tens of thousands demonstrated in Dalian, in north east China, last year and a local chemical plant was closed down as a result.
And there was a copper alloy plant that has been just shut down in the wake of violent protests in Shifang, Sichuan province. The locals made it clear to the communist bosses that they preferred a healthier environment to new jobs. Twenty seven people were arrested in the scuffles. They were all released after being lectured about their behaviour and having said ‘sorry’. Millions of messages on weibo, China’s Twitter, supported the protesters and accused the police of brutality.
So, the Chinese people are getting a voice of their own. What does this mean for the communist leaders in Beijing, who are getting ready for the changing of the guard in October at the 18th Party Congress? Remarkably, they don’t make a big fuss out of the environmental protests. Why? Presumably they don’t wish to inflame the situation and push people into protesting against other things as well.
Economic growth in China is slowing. This is reflected in the rising coal stocks at pits and ports. Seventy per cent of the country’s electricity is generated from coal. This is a more accurate barometer of the health of the economy than any set of dodgy statistics coming out of Beijing.
The slowdown in the US and EU economies is having a marked impact on China. Many of its factories produce low-end goods. Their profit margins are wafer thin because of increasing competition from Vietnam, Indonesia and others. Rising wages and slackening demand are a toxic mix. It could tip many of them into bankruptcy. And if you consider that many of the workers are migrants, with no residency or social security rights, the only way of registering their plight would be to riot.
China appears to be heading for a serious upheaval. Some economists are predicting that the Middle Kingdom will face serious trouble in about two years’ time. This becomes more and more likely, unless the world economy recovers. Unpredictable times beckon.