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Pollution, expropriation and seizures spark increasing Chinese rural resistance


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is acutely aware that its pursuit of economic success to legitimize its leadership (see China's opposing arcs: population and productivity) has created widespread (but heretofore pocketed and disenfranchised) popular discontent and undermined its claim to legitimacy due to rises in corruption and the decline of China's social welfare system and environmental health. The prosperous coastal regions and enterprise zones are favored to the exclusion of the less prosperous interior regions.

The bias is so great that we see a principally internal Chinese inter-province outsourcing that moves high pollution industries inland to rural areas that have had no voice heretofore yet whose citizens desperately cling to any short-term job prospect in the same factories that simultaneously compromise their land and water. Almost all Chinese media pronouncements are happy talk as are most releases from the CCP bureaucracy. Rare exceptions are at the affected provincial level, notably the Jiangsu Environmental Protection Bureau (JEPB):

[As major Chinese cites reduce their pollution in part to satisfy] urbanites with rising incomes [that] are demanding better air and water [the] countryside, home to two-thirds of China's population, is increasingly becoming a dumping ground. Local officials, desperate to generate jobs and tax revenues, protect factories that have polluted for years. Refineries and smelters forced out of cities have moved to rural areas. So have some foreign companies, to escape regulation at home. The losers are hundreds of millions of peasants already at the bottom of a society now sharply divided between rich and poor.

Elizabeth Economy, author of The River Runs Black, a study of the Huai basin of rivers and canals the size of England, believes that China's approach to environmental protection and economic development have similar roots with similar impacts:

devolving authority to local officials, opening the door to private actors, and inviting participation from the international community, while retaining only weak central control. The result has been a patchwork of environmental protection in which a few wealthy regions with strong leaders and international ties defend their local environments, while most of the country continues to deteriorate, sometimes suffering irrevocable damage.

"No doubt there is an economic food chain, and the lower you are, the worse off your environmental problems are likely to be. One city after the next is offloading its polluting industries outside its city limits, and polluting industries themselves are seeking poorer areas."

The pollution levels are extraordinary and constitute a threat that I think has not received sufficient coverage inside and outside China; The impact is so deep and pervasive that I have the impression that it ranks as a human rights violation, a point that I've previously made in private correspondence. I believe that China is (has) surpassed the industrial destruction wreaked in the DDR (East Germany) and the USSR in and around the Ural Mountain range by the Soviets:

[C]hildren in [major Chinese] cities inhale the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes a day just by breathing… With its surging economy, China has depleted its own natural resources and is now draining resources from other states as well. Its insatiable demand for wood, for example, has already deforested much of the country-leading to erosion and flooding-and is now threatening the tropical forests of Southeast Asia as well. By 2020, according to predictions, 25 percent of China's arable land will be gone, water needs will be up by 40 percent, wastewater will increase by almost 300 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions will be up 150 percent.

Add to this continued seizures of farmland by local Communist officials for factories, dams, roads and other projects "often for personal profit" by local cadres and entrepreneurs, which in turn adds more pollution while further marginalizing peasants, and the CCP reaps widening social unrest in rural areas that is increasing volatile and now violent. Without recourse to more systemic levers of change, the party has resorted to stonewalling and repression that has depended upon relative isolation and a media blackout. Technological changes are weakening the latter as peasant frustration is fighting the former.

Part 2 Rising rural resistance

Thousands of Chinese Villagers Protest Factory Pollution
New York Times
April 13, 2005

The state of pollution
By Florence Chan
Asia Times
Mar 16, 2005

The Present and Future of China
NPR audio series on China, 2004-2005

Rivers Run Black, and Chinese Die of Cancer
New York Times
September 12, 2004
Scrolled to
Mirrored here and here

Four part series by Jasper Becker in Asia Times:
Part 1:
The death of China's rivers, Aug 26, 2003
Part 2:
Peasants bear the brunt of energy plans, Aug 27, 2003
Part 3:
China in an energy quandary, Aug 28, 2003
Part 4:
China awakens to its devastated environment, Aug 29, 2003

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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