'Iron-fisted rule' of Chinese government causes delays in fighting air pollution

By Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun

A video display on the side of a building shows a map of China amid heavy pollution and fog in Beijing. Photo / AP
A video display on the side of a building shows a map of China amid heavy pollution and fog in Beijing. Photo / AP

China's air pollution can be described as a due consequence of the nation's efforts to achieve economic growth at any cost, combined with delays in improving the situation as a result of the Chinese Communist Party's one-party dictatorship established to rule the country with an iron fist.

Many parts of China are experiencing serious air contamination. In December, Beijing's municipal authorities issued red alerts twice, signaling the worst-level pollution in the city.

In some sections of Beijing, the density of fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less, known as PM2.5, topped 700 micrograms per cubic meter - 20 times greater than the level set in Japan's environmental standards.

A policeman talks to the driver of a motor-tricycle amid heavy haze in Handan city in northern China's Hebei province. Photo / AP
A policeman talks to the driver of a motor-tricycle amid heavy haze in Handan city in northern China's Hebei province. Photo / AP

The red alerts were kept in place for about seven days, during which emergency measures were enforced, including traffic restrictions aimed at nearly halving the passage of vehicles and a halt in the operation of factories.

There also are concerns about the adverse effects incurred on the Japanese community in the city. The school for local Japanese students was temporarily closed, while Japanese corporations switched to work-at-home operations during the period.

Forcible traffic controls were also enforced during a summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the autumn of 2014 and a military parade in September.

We feel the restrictions may have been intended, first and foremost, to save face for Chinese President Xi Jinping's administration during these important events. Just repeating such ad hoc measures will do little to fundamentally resolve the problem.

Pedestrians make their way across a busy intersection on a day with severe air pollution in Beijing. Photo / AP
Pedestrians make their way across a busy intersection on a day with severe air pollution in Beijing. Photo / AP

The cause of China's worsening air pollution includes sooty smoke from combusted coal and exhaust from automobiles powered by low-quality gasoline. Long-term, persistent anti-pollution efforts are indispensable for rectifying the situation.

The Chinese government has expressed its readiness to attach great importance to the fight against environmental problems, including a plan to enforce the revised air pollution prevention law early in the new year.

China has proclaimed it will stand by the rule of law, but the independence of the judiciary is nowhere to be seen in that country. The swift disclosure of information is indispensable in this respect, but provincial government bureaucrats, by and large, have little awareness of what should be done. They also have an extremely strong tendency to cover up inconvenient things.

It may be difficult to reform the collusive relations between corporations and regional authorities, as priority is given to economic interests and consequently aggravates the spread of pollution.

In the spring of 2015, steps were taken to make it impossible to watch an Internet video that had caused a stir by denouncing the authorities over the air pollution problem. It is important for nongovernmental organizations and the media to keep watch on corporations. However, the fact is that the Chinese government is increasing restrictions on NGOs and news organs.

If the current situation goes unchecked, China's pledge to curtail greenhouse gas emissions in the anti-global warming fight could be reduced to an empty slogan.

The Xi administration has said it will pursue the goal of transforming the country, by the end of 2020, into a "society with breathing space," in which people feel somewhat comfortably off. In trying to achieve this objective, there is a pressing need for China to make all-out environmental efforts, to say nothing of the need to improve the living standards of its people.

China's air pollution cannot be treated as having nothing to do with Japan. PM2.5 and other pollutants come flying into our nation, carried by the prevailing westerlies. Japan must continue to promote environmental cooperation with China while at the same time urging that nation to become serious about addressing the problem.

- Washington Post

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