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People power in China

Filed on October 25, 2012

THE LAST three decades have seen China achieve unprecedented economic success. However, the rise of the Dragon has not been without pitfalls and one very obvious is the massive environmental cost of rapid economic development.

In its drive to become an economic powerhouse, the communist state has demonstrated a ravenous appetite for resources and little regard for the environment.

According to last year’s Asian Development Bank report, water pollution and water scarcity are among the most serious challenges that the country faces and fewer than one per cent of China’s 500 largest cities met the air quality standards recommended by the World Health Organization. Many other statistics reveal the alarming state of environmental degradation in the superpower.

However, the Chinese people have not been silent on the issue. Even though the geographical divisions across the country’s vast territory have made national collective action difficult for the population, local environmental activism has been gaining momentum during the last decade. In a country where political dissent is off-limits, demonstrators in China’s various provinces are not lobbying for a transition of power, but are, in fact, pressuring the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to improve is governance — especially in relation to environmental issues. In 2011, a large crowd came out in China’s northern city of Dalian for a morning stroll. But this was no casual saunter in the park; in fact, the strollers carried banners expressing their rage at a chemical plant. They managed to force the government to relocate a $1.6 billion plant. This year in July, nearly 1,000 environmental protesters in the eastern city of Qidong pressured the government to stop the construction of a pipeline carrying toxic waste, while several thousands in the city of Shifang halted the construction of a copper–molybdenum processing plant.

This new environmental lobbying is not limited to the streets of China’s myriad rural and urban centres. In fact, youngsters are using micro-blogging sites to raise awareness regarding environmental issues. Thus, even though the CCP might still be going strong in China, it faces challenges from an environmentally conscious populace. As China continues its path towards economic progress, its youth is bent on keeping a check on unrestrained capitalism.


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