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China must stick to ecological 'red line': Xi

Date
A Beijing cyclist wearing a face mask.

A Beijing cyclist wearing a face mask. Photo: AFP

China’s President Xi Jinping said the country won’t sacrifice the environment to ensure temporary economic growth, amid rising public discontent that industrial expansion is creating pollution and threatening food safety.

China must carefully balance economic development and environmental protection, Xi told a study session of the top leadership of the Communist Party on promoting ecological progress, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Protests this month against plans by the country’s biggest oil producer to build a chemical plant in Yunnan province and revelations that rice produced in southern China contained excessive levels of a toxic metal are adding pressure on China’s new leadership to tackle environmental issues. Pollution has replaced land disputes as the main cause of social unrest, Chen Jiping, a former leading member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, said in March.

“We should be fully aware of the urgency and difficulty of protecting the environment and reducing pollution as well as the significance and necessity of improving the environment,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying. “We should take the responsibility for the sake of our people and our children.”

The country will “consciously promote a green, sustainable and low-carbon development pattern,” Xi told members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, according to Xinhua.

Excessive cadmium

Demonstrations against industrial plants have taken place in Shanghai and Kunming, the capital of southern Yunnan province, this month. China National Petroleum Corp. pledged to take measures to ensure a chemical factory it wants to build near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, won’t harm the environment amid growing opposition to its proposal.

Rice from Hunan province sold in southern Guangdong province was found to contain excessive levels of cadmium, a toxic metal, according to the Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration. State-owned grain researcher Cngrain.com said rice traders in Hunan reported sales dropping by more than half since the reports.

Xi vowed to set and strictly observe an ecological “red line” to ensure the environment is protected amid the country’s rapid urbanisation and said those who cross the line will be punished, according to Xinhua’s report.

The president also called for more economical use of resources and for a reduction in consumption of energy, water and land, Xinhua said.

Stricter approval

As part of efforts to curb pollution, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said this month it suspended approval for coal-fired power projects in the regions of Inner Mongolia, Henan and Guizhou. It also ordered 15 companies, including state-owned Hebei Iron & Steel Group, to pay fees for sulfur dioxide emissions, according to a statement on its website.

The government has ordered stricter approval criteria to be applied to approvals of bond sales by financing companies set up by local governments in industries identified as being heavy polluters, people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News this month.

A 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center showed just 59 per cent of Chinese say they are satisfied with “21st century life,” down from 71 per cent four years earlier. Food safety topped worries, while traffic, crime and pollution were other major concerns, it found.

Bloomberg

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