Environmental chief sacked following major pollution – Xinhua (UPDATED)
China’s cabinet on Friday approved the resignation of Xie Zhenhua, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), following a chemical spill that has seriously polluted the country’s northeastern Songhua River.
“Xie submitted a resignation request to the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council. The request has been approved,” said a joint circular from the general offices of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, the Chinese cabinet.
Xie has become the highest-ranking official to be removed from office for an environmental incident, as the Chinese authorities are increasingly aware of the danger of seeking economic development at the cost of environment, as well as the importance of boosting government accountability.
The State Council said in a separate announcement that it has appointed Zhou Shengxian, former director of the State Forestry Administration, as Xie’s replacement.
See also: the State Council’s general statement on Xie’s resignation and on the importance of safety (in Chinese) on sina.com.
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UPDATE: The following analysis was provided to CDT from Dr. Wenran Jiang, Acting Director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta and a native of Harbin who has followed this issue closely:
From very early on I believed that to simply blame Songhua river pollution on local authorities, as most domestic and international press did, is not quite the whole picture, and that someone would be the scapegoat of this systemic failure.
Both Jilin and Heilongjiang (and Harbin) authorities reported what happened to the central environmental protection agency immediately because, on such large-scale accidents, they were not allowed to make public announcements by themselves without central approval. The key agency that handled the crisis from early on was the central environmental protection agency which in turn was unable to make quick decisions due to multiple implications (panic, unrest, economic losses and especially potential Russian claims for compensation). The local authorities covered up under the directives from Xie Zhenhua’s agency.
I think Xie’s agency is the one that was responsible for the initial cover-up. What we need to know is if Wen was aware of this from the very beginning and he did not give a clear order on what to do, or he was only informed later on. Again, for those who know the real inside story of the SARS cover-up…