January 12, 2006

Can’t Resist Putting a Chinese Needle in The Wall Street Journal Today

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:01 am

The Journal recommends what to do about the “environmental malaise” in China (subscription require; bold is mine):

Another week, another chemical spill in China. The recent spate of environmental mishaps on the mainland isn’t new, though at least we’re hearing about them now. If Beijing really wanted to tackle its environmental malaise, it would move faster to dump state enterprises and speed the development of a private economy in which managers are held accountable both for making a profit and for fouling the air and water.

One thing’s for sure: The recent news has been bad PR for the PRC. Last November, a petrochemical plant explosion in Jillin, in northeastern China, released 100 tons of benzene and other nasty things into the Songhua River, creating a slick that flowed all the way to Russia. That mess forced three million people in the city of Harbin to go without running water for nearly five days. The news was too big to hide, though officials tried. Foreign journalists sniffed the story and moved in to report it.

Now, problems are popping up all over. In December, a metal factory in Shaoguan, a southern Chinese city near Hong Kong, leaked cadmium — a potentially cancer-causing agent — into the Bei River. And in recent days, a fertilizer-plant accident dumped 600 tons of sulfuric acid into the Qijiang River, near Chongqing; cadmium was spilled into the Xiangjiang River in Hunan Province; and in Shandong Province several tons of diesel oil were dumped accidentally into the Yellow River.

It’s hard to tell exactly how widespread the problems are, but we’d go out on a limb and guess, oh, “pretty vast.” China’s State Environmental Protection Administration reported 1,441 environmental accidents in 2004, with most incidents related to water. We’d wager that figure is underestimated by a wide margin. The manager responsible for the Harbin slick was later found dead, by the way.

The bolded sentence in the excerpt is a real howler. If The Journal thinks “speeding the development of a private economy” is so important, why did it support Chinese government-controlled company CNOOC (controlled at the highest levels) in its bid to become an even bigger government-controlled company last summer, and cry like a baby when it didn’t happen?

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