I went to an energy and environment conference here in Shanghai recently in which one of the foreign participants—gripped apparently by the sort of irrational exuberance that afflicts a lot of foreigners peddling wares (or, in this guy’s case, services…) here—said something to the effect that China could and would leap-frog the west in terms of environmental technology because local and provincial officials are all sitting around thinking up new and nifty ways to go green.
I almost fell out of my seat. Let’s hope what he said is someday true. In the meantime,here, from today’s Wall Street Journal, is another thing all those green minded local officials are doing: locking up irksome environmental activists (since the Journal I believel requires a subscription for its site I’m enclosing the entire short piece here, though the site is
Police Hold Chinese Foe Of Polluters
By SHAI OSTER
BEIJING — An environmental activist famous for battling to clean up one of China’s most polluted lakes has been detained, his family and lawyers said.
Wu Lihong, 39 years old, was detained last week by police in his hometown of Zhoutie township in Yixing, in Jiangsu Province
Mr. Wu, who grew up there along the banks of China’s third-largest lake, Tai Hu, has been fighting with local officials and factory owners to clean up the lake, into which he claims many factories are dumping untreated waste water. The area, on the border of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, isn’t far from Shanghai and has become a heavy industrial zone with hundreds of factories.
Mr. Wu is among a small but vocal number of environmental activists who are trying to bring attention to the environmental degradation caused by China’s speeding economic growth. Factories and cities dump 40 billion to 60 billion metric tons of waste water and sewage into lakes and rivers each year, according to Chinese government estimates. About 30% of China’s rivers are so dirty they aren’t fit for industrial or agricultural use, according to official statistics. About 300 million Chinese don’t have access to clean drinking water.
The former salesman’s crusade has put him in direct conflict with local officials, who rely on the factories to boost the local economy. Mr. Wu claims that he has been harassed, beaten and even detained once before, in 2002.
Local police confirmed that Mr. Wu was detained April 13. He was accused of racketeering, according to his wife, Xu Jiehua. When contacted, police declined to release any more information on Mr. Wu.
Mr. Wu’s fight has received national attention, and recognition from China’s central government. Last November, he was named one of China’s top 10 environmentalists by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the National People’s Congress for his efforts that led to the closure of several hundred polluting factories. Despite the award, he says local authorities continue to harass him and that pollution has gotten worse.
Before he was arrested, Mr. Wu contacted journalists and said conditions had gotten so bad that some 80,000 local villagers were unable to use their tap water and were forced to rely on bottled water being brought in from outside.
A friend said Mr. Wu was planning a trip to Beijing to press his case with the central government. That may have angered local officials, Mr. Wu’s wife and a friend said.
Mr. Wu’s lawyer, Tian Kun, of the Taifu Law Office in Beijing, said he will apply to meet Mr. Wu today and ask for his release on bail.