The green revolt of Xiamen shocks Chinese government
As China is set to attend the G8 summit this week in order to defend its right to pursue its lofty economic modernisation policy, it is also facing an increasingly environmentally conscious middle class back home. This is the paradoxical situation in which China finds itself, on the eve of the G8 summit where it was invited, like many other emerging countries, for an « expanded dialogue » which will focus on environmental questions and global warming.
The Chinese government has reaffirmed just this week that it would in no way sacrifice its economic development for greater environmental protection. Nevertheless, at the same time, China is in the midst of its first popular « green » revolt. The inhabitants of the modern seaside town of Xiamen (Historical note : In the 19th century, this port town was one of five ports open to foreigners after the « Opium Wars ». In 1980, it became one of the « special economic zones » where Deng Xiaoping’s first experimental reforms took place), have managed to successfully oppose the construction of a chemical factory in their town’s vicinity. On May 30th, the project, estimated at around one billion Euros has been « temporarily » suspended, while « new environmental studies » were being conducted.
This is a first in China, especially when faced with such an expansive project. The victory was due in most part to the unprecedented mobilisation of the population of Xiamen thanks to text messaging services and internet forums. This is a small revolution in Chinese politics, as the new base of the Communist Party -the urban middle class- has shown itself capable of saying no, when it felt endangered by careless governmental planning.
Tens of thousands of text messages were sent in this city of two million, stating simply « if this chemical factory is built, it would be like installing an atomic bomb at the heart of our city. The citizens of Xiamen will live with leukemia and deformed children. We want to live and we want to be healthy. »... The inhabitants also took to the streets to show their discontent. Movies of the protest found their way to Youtube.
This very fist « green revolt » has seriously undermined the credibility of the government. While environmental concerns are much more prevalent today in China compared to just a few years ago, they are still not a priority : As a recently pre-G8 summit document states, unbridled economic development remains trumps enviornmental issues. This document explains that industrialized nation are squarely to blame for global climate change, as they have, almost exclusively been the sole polluters of the world for the first half of the industrial age....Which isn’t exactly false.
The main problem is that China, excluded from the obligations of the Kyoto protocol as a developing country, may soon become the chief source of green house gas emitter in world, beating out the United States : meaning that Beijing will soon have to come to terms with its new responsibilities, instead of passing on the buck to West. This is inevitable as China’s population is demanding governmental accountability and is beginning, after two decade of unbridled industrial development responsible for terrible ecological tragedy, to develop an environmental conscience which has just sent the government an unprecedented shock.
Translation Christophe Bauer.
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