While China’s new leaders stress their commitment to environmental protection, Zhou Shengxian’s continued position as environment minister has provoked public discontent. Pan Yue, a prominent critic of economic growth achieved by running up an “environmental overdraft”, had previously been tipped as Zhou’s replacement. From Liu Jianqiang at chinadialogue:
When the new leadership’s ministerial appointments were announced last weekend, Zhou retained his post, to the disappointment of those concerned about the environment. The public questioned why a minister with no achievements should remain in power.
When, on March 16, almost 3,000 representatives to the National People’s Congress voted on 25 ministerial appointments, Zhou received the lowest number of supporting votes, showing the level of discontent with his work.
The news was also met with catcalls from the public. Musician Zhao Tianming asked on his microblog if anyone knew what the minister’s achievements were. The vast majority of the 4,000-odd netizens who forwarded and commented on his message did not. One asked if the fact that one river was full of pigs and others had dried up; and the towns covered in smog and millions suffering from dust-related lung diseases could be classed as ministerial feats.
Liu does credit new premier Li Keqiang with some encouraging rhetoric and past achievements. But a campaigner quoted by Jonathan Kaiman at The Guardian argued that, in any case, the problem does not lie at the top of the political pyramid:
Ma Tianjie, the head of toxics campaign at Greenpeace East Asia, said that despite the lack of concrete anti-pollution action at the congress, bold environmental legislation may yet emerge over the next five years as new leaders acclimate to their roles and cement their alliances.
“Because they’re changing a lot of positions at the top, they have been a bit cautious in revealing their agenda,” he said. “The problem is not that the top doesn’t get it – they have got it for a while now. The problem is with lower level authorities, whether they can translate that kind of top-level consciousness to actual actions on the ground.”