(March 25, 2011) In an effort to reduce air pollution, the Chinese government has found a way to outsource its problem.
China’s rapid industrialisation has taken a heavy toll on public health. Forced into acknowledging the country’s pollution crisis, the government has found a sinister solution to toxic growth – move the threat elsewhere. Francis Wade, a journalist writing for the Democratic Voice of Burma* exposes the underside of China’s bid to clean up.
Four years ago the World Bank released a report to China’s health ministry which was immediately suppressed by officials and kept from the public for years, writes Wade. The reason? The report estimated 750,000 people died each year as a result of pollution-related illnesses in China, many of whom had fallen victim to China’s coal emissions. China is now the planet’s number-one coal consumer. Because of this, China is home to 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities and its environmental authorities receive around 630,000 letters each year seeking environmental redress, reports Wade.
Fearing the World Bank’s shocking statistics would provoke civil unrest over what all Chinese citizens know to be an environmental crisis, officials realized they had to act quickly. But rather than address its pollution problem at home, Wade reveals the government has shifted the burden of pollution onto neighbouring countries with “flimsy environmental regulations” and a penchant for “suppression of public disquiet,” such as Burma and Laos, a move that forces citizens elsewhere to pay the price for improving China’s health card.
Reliant on China for capital and lucre, its neighbouring governments have been willing accomplices for a number of reasons. Referring to an instance where logging was banned in Yunnan province in the late 1990s following heavy erosion and flooding, Wade notes that China shifted its sourcing for wood to Kachin state in Burma, where the ruling military junta has “long turned a blind eye to the threat faced by the world’s last natural teak forest.”
Equally odious is the Chinese government’s new way of outsourcing coal emissions: mining and burning coal in Burma. The Chinese government is using Burma like a sinkhole, where it extracts and burns coal to fire a Chinese-owned cement plant. And they are building another coal-fired plant to power Burma’s largest copper mine, which is also Chinese operated. Wade notes that half of the 12,000 local population near the active coal plant have suffered related illnesses, and 320 households have been forcibly displaced without benefits.
Fear of public opposition in China has clearly spooked Chinese authorities who have positioned the battle against pollution as a key priority in the government’s recent five-year plan. Last month Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian went so far as to warn that the by-products of rapid industrialization and surging growth rates are now “a serious obstacle to social and economic development” in China.
But exporting those “by-products” will only turn neighbouring populations into enemies and add to regional tension. It will also discourage Chinese industry from innovating in favour of resource efficiencies and a healthier GDP.
Lisa Peryman, Probe International
*The Democratic Voice of Burma, based in Oslo, Norway, provides uncensored news and information about Burma, the country’s military regime and its political opposition.