Ok, maybe my post a few days back about why China’s an environmental disaster area (corruption, corruption, corruption, I believe I wrote) was a tad too cynical. Herewith an observation from Stephen Green, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank based here in Shanghai. It is from cases like this–albeit lots and lots of them–that progress comes:
Here a small anecdote to suggest things are at least changing here. I was visiting a private steel company HQ yesterday and I asked about environmental regulation. Although the general manager said the usual stuff about needing time to improve things he also mentioned a recent case one of his steel pipe mills had been involved in. Two firms in the vicinity (in Shandong) had been caught by SEPA polluting local water sources and SEPA had issued a notice that stopped all production in the area (he did not say the scale of the area affected), including the (non-polluting) steel mill. The local party secretary plus factory officials et al. then had to go lobby authorities in the provincial capital plus local SEPA to allow the non-polluting factories to turn on production again, which happened after a few days. Obviously there are opportunities for abuse here, the tools are crude, but the days when SEPA officials were powerless appear to be ending, at least on the east coast. One would guess that in the less developed centre/west their power is weaker, but have no evidence to back that. I wonder if anyone knows of anyone doing field research on local SEPA activities at present?