Recently Chinese political leaders, public and scientists have been deeply concerned about ‘environmental security’ (huanjing anquan), ensuring the survival of the natural environment against the impacts of man-made hazards. After 2003, public debate intensified on the loss of agricultural land, pollution, and water-shortage: all classic symptoms of rapid industrialization. Environmental contamination is seen as having potential for social instability. The shortage of resources presents an even sharper challenge to social harmony, and even to national security. China is one of those countries facing very serious water shortages: per capita water resources are close to those of countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile there have been peasant movements to protest against land seizures, while others are concerned about loss of agricultural land to encroaching industry.
Some commentators take a negative view of the current Chinese government, considering it unreliable, fragile, tyrannical and ambitious; others are much more favourable, recognizing that the Communist Party government has presided over an unparalleled improvement in welfare. But neither faction denies its critical importance, since the role of China cannot be over-estimated. It has the world’s largest population and largest army, thousands of kilometres of land borders, and extensive off-shore territorial rights. Its economic power influences every region in the world, including South America, the former U.S. ‘backyard’.
It has always been an over-simplification to characterize China as monolithic, and in fact there is a very active and well-informed environmental lobby including many top scientists. Even top ministry officials and politicians dealing with oil and water resources join the public debate through the internet and other media.
This paper traces the evolution of Chinese debates on the relation between economic and social development and environmental issues: a discussion which in some ways parallels developments in other countries, but which is in other ways distinctive.
|Keywords:||Peoples Republic of China, Environment, Government, Internet|
Senior Lecturer, Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies, Coventry University, Coventry, UK
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