China’s Green Pledges Are as Deep as a Coat of Paint – Isabel Hilton

In the Guardian, Isabel Hilton follows up last week’s news of a mountain being painted green in southwestern China’s Fumin County with a commentary on what the incident reflects about China’s approach to environmental problems:

The episode resonates with a long Chinese tradition of confusing appearance with reality. When, in the 1950s, Mao Zedong decreed that China would overtake Britain in steelmaking within 15 years and that agricultural yields would double with the application of the correct theory, officials all over China reported that the miracle had taken place. When Mao went on tours of inspection, healthy crops were uprooted and hastily replanted along his route so that the Great Helmsman would see an unbroken vista of dense green vegetation. He was never troubled with the news that the plants died within days of his passage, and later refused to believe millions were starving. Had he not seen the bountiful harvests in the making?

…The greening of Laoshou mountain indicates that some aspects of China have not greatly changed. In the 11th five-year plan, the economic policy blueprint approved in 2005, the Chinese leadership announced a change of emphasis that appeared to acknowledge the threat catastrophic environmental degradation posed to continued growth. Environmentalists had long pointed out China’s model of development was unsustainable, but their warnings had been dismissed with an official mantra of “development first, environment later”. It was an approach, the leadership liked to point out, that had served the west’s industrial revolution well, and now it was driving China’s economic miracle. [Full Text]

See more of Hilton’s excellent writing on China here.

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