A BRIEF news item from China, quoting the state-owned Xinhua news agency last weekend, has revealed that the most populous and second biggest economic power in the world is wrestling with its biggest enemy: its manifold environmental problems.
The ruling dictatorship in China, starting with the late Deng Xiaoping, maintained its iron-fist control over its 1.3 billion citizens but adopted the free economic practices of the free world, dependence on coal as energy source for cheaper mass production and cut-throat competition to attain its current economic standing.
Last week’s Reuters item from Beijing, obviously paraphrasing President Xi Jinping, said:
“China needs to shift away from over-reliance on heavy industries, large-scale and careless expansion, and the depletion of the country’s natural resources” because “the country’s rapid economic growth had caused many environmental problems…China’s air, water and soil pollution need to be tackled…’under these circumstances, we must exert significant efforts to reverse course’….”
None of the local news media carried the Reuters item, as they were preoccupied with martial law in Mindanao and the fighting between government troops and the terrorist Islamic State-affiliated Maute group in Marawi City.
The United Nations has identified China as the largest single air-, water-, and soil-polluting country because of its sustained ambitious economic goals. Beijing has signed the Paris Protocol, an agreement by almost all of the UN members, to bring down the earth’s temperature to below the 2 degrees Celsius level and prevent the melting of the glaciers in the North and South Poles.
Otherwise, human life and the total biodiversity on earth faces the probability of extinction with the unchecked warming of the earth’s temperature. Climate changes and natural calamities do not recognize geopolitical sovereignty nor territorial borders. When Mt. Pinatubo blew up in 1991, its pyroclastic debris caused rains and floods in China, Pakistan, and extended winter in the US northeastern seaboard states by a few weeks.
It must be recalled that China extensively used coal to keep its industrial plants working full speed and with controlled wages for its manufacturing labor force in the southeastern special economic regions. To host the 2008 World Olympic Games, Beijing reportedly stopped the operations of 25 percent of its factories within 200 miles of the Games’ site to control the haze that daily envelops the capital.
The latest Xi statement may be interpreted in many ways as it comes before an important meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee before the end of the year. And its downstream effects—into the next decade—must be a real concern for the world, particularly the Asean (and other) neighbors of China.
Let me offer some observations as this may be the weak underbelly of China to counter its military muscle against the Asean 10:
It is an admission of the unannounced/unreported extensive effect the national pollution on China’s air, water and soil. Therefore, it is a major factor in China’s food and water security for its population.
Unless the ruling dictatorship succeeds in dealing with it, China may have food and water shortages and several other derivative negative economic issues to solve, which may ignite a political implosion.
The environmental deterioration will certainly trigger a push for modern science and technologies to drastically reduce total pollution. But it will come at probably a high price, including pirating intellectual property from the economically more advanced Western democracies; and intensified cyberspace hijacking of the West and Russian communications systems.
Because of its biodiversity and tropical geographical locale, the 10 Asean members may be considered by China as its main source of food , which is probably (logically) the reason for Beijing’s offer to finance an Asean railway network to link with China. (Its experimental train run to Europe successfully returned from London earlier last week.)
In exchange for the “generous” infrastructure offers, Beijing may likely use it as political and military pressure on the weaker Asean 10—individually and not as an economic bloc, which is the main reason China wants bilateral diplomatic negotiations only.
China has been building rocket launchers on Fiery Cross Reef, one of China’s man-made islands in the Spratlys group, showing the continued military expenditures of Beijing, according to published reports last week. In the light of Xi’s statement, will China still go on with its increased military expenses or will Beijing divert these funds into public health?
The worst possible scenario is: in the face of a predicted Chinese growth slowdown and the Asean 10’s economic upsurge in the next 10 years amidst intra-Asean liberalized trade and policy alignments, and the increased Russian trade with the region, it is possible Beijing will use North Korea to go to war with the US and its allies in the Asia-Pacific area.
With all of the above possible outcomes from the effects of environmental degradation on China, it is pertinent to ask what the Americans (who have world dominance in technologies and communications) will do—in the face of increasing tension in Northeast Asia caused by the North Korean missile tests.
The rotating chairmanship of Asean summitry passes to Singapore next year, as the Philippines’ turn ends this December.
Singapore, the most progressive of the Asean 10, has been in the crosshairs of China when Hong Kong on instructions from Beijing, held early this year a Singapore-bound shipment of Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles. It should be very interesting!
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