January 5, 2006
Environmentalists are becoming more active in China but they are forced to keep their activities to a small scale, John Gittings writes.
China’s environment is high on the government agenda these days: no one hides the problems caused by fewer forests, more deserts and many mistakes in past years. China is also more on the alert for the environmental downside of globalisation. This month Beijing clamped down on the import of electronic junk for so-called “recycling”, which poisons entire villages in southern China. A government-backed research institute in Nanjing has also challenged conventional wisdom (and the wrath of Monsanto) with a study claiming that genetically modified cotton – widely used in China – is encouraging more pests than it deters. Outside government, more Chinese green groups are emerging in the provinces to challenge local authorities used to having their own way. They are “exploring the boundaries of advocacy”, says the Beijing-based China Development Brief in a survey of Chinese green NGOs. “In few other sectors (of society) are private actors so vocal and visible.” Yet in a country where the ruling Communist party views with intense suspicion any social movement it does not control, the greens still have to move carefully. A recent visit to Nanjing, in the company of China’s best-known environmentalist, Professor Liang Congjie, illustrated both the opportunities and the constraints. A group of local activists were showing Prof Liang some disturbing developments on the Purple mountain – Nanjing’s famous beauty-spot where Sun Yat-sen, father of the Chinese revolution, is buried. A hotel in the park had enclosed a slice of forest with a raw brick wall topped by electric fencing. “They say it is to provide a ‘zone of separation’ for their guests,” explained a green volunteer. Other unwelcome items included a concrete observation tower on the peak of the mountain – an eyesore from miles off. A useless “reservoir” had also been hacked out of the forest, providing lucrative work for some contractor. “The meaning of this lies not in what we see,” Prof Liang commented. “All over China the authorities take this or that piece of land, saying it is needed for some purpose.” “The real significance is that the ordinary people of Nanjing are beginning to react and make objections.”
Categories: Beijing Water