China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pollution big test for China, democracy needed - official

BEIJING Thu Feb 9, 2006 5:13 AM GMT,- Pollution has become one of the biggest tests for the Chinese Communist Party but a lack of democracy stands in the way of an easy remedy, a newspaper on Thursday quoted a top environment official as saying.

China's economic boom in the past 25 years has brought serious degradation of the environment, with industrial waste pouring into most of the countrys' river and air quality deteriorating sharply in its cities.

"China's development has entered a stage with high environmental risks," Pan Yue, vice director of the national environment watchdog, told the Southern Weekend, "To meet them has become one of the gravest challenges for the ruling party."

A former journalist with close links to the sons and daughters of China's political elite, Pan has sought to use environmental issues to craft an image as a political reformer.

Pan criticized problems ranging from the over-development of hydro power in the upper reaches of China's major rivers to the clustering of dangerous chemical plants on river banks in populated areas and reckless urban expansions nationwide.

"It's not a problem of certain companies or regions any more, the pollution is now structural," the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) official said.

Pan attributed problem to an official obsession with economic growth, deep-rooted regional protectionism and the absence of modern governance.

"The Chinese government has yet to finish its transition to a modern administrative system," Pan said, adding that many large projects with a potentially serious impact on the environment had been launched without any public consultation.

"Public good has been encroached upon by certain interest groups as people are not informed and have no channels to express their opinions," he said.

A petrochemical plant blast in China's northeast last November poured 100 tonnes of toxic benzene-compound into the Songhua river, cut off taps for millions for days and became an international incident by sending a spill to Russia.

It led to the resignation of former SEPA head Xie Zhenhua and galvanized a new wave of national concern about the environmental cost of its industrial success.

SEPA named 11 companies for heavy pollution this week after a countrywide investigation prompted by the spill. It also revealed 45 other pollution accidents that have occurred since November.

Pan said one important step needed to alleviate the situation was to introduce an "open and sunshine administration."

"Environmental protection issues are of public interest and are the least politically sensitive ... it is the best area for experiments in socialist democracy and rule of law."

Political reform has been a taboo topic in China since troops crushed student-led pro-democracy demonstrations on the Tiananmen Square in 1989, though market reforms have lifted the once starvation-plagued country to the world's sixth-largest economy.

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