9 May 2008

China -- Danger and Opportunity

The Economist warns that the government may get more than it bargained for from nationalist protests. As Chinese citizens learn how to organize and protest against foreign criticism (e.g., Tibet), they are also learning skills that can be turned against their own government's incompetence and corruption. The most touchy subjects are property (illegal seizures) and the environment (pollution from "friends of the State):
Last year nature appeared to vindicate Mr Wu. Soon after his arrest, the lake was choked by toxic algae fed by the phosphates from the human and industrial waste that had been poured into the water and its tributaries. For more than a week, the stinking growth disrupted the water supply of 2m people living on its shores. It was one of China's biggest environmental scandals since the Communist Party came to power. In Wuxi, the city closest to Mr Wu's home in Fenshui village, residents queued to buy bottled water. The Yangzi River was diverted to flush the algae out.

Amid an internet-fuelled uproar, officials promised to close down polluting factories and clean up an area once legendary for its beauty. But in late March blue-green blooms were again found along the southern shore. Such growths are rare so early in the year. Officials admit that despite their clean-up efforts the water remains at the lowest grade in China's water-quality scale, unfit for human contact, and that another “big bloom” is possible this year.


For all the central government's green talk, a complex web of local interests sometimes linked with powerful figures in Beijing often frustrates efforts to deal with the problems that lead to such unrest. Wu Lihong's campaigning around Tai Lake threatened factories, the governments that depend on them for revenues and the jobs the factories provide.
The benefit of democracy is that it forces leaders to deal with problems of citizens. (Mr. Wu, btw, should get the Nobel Peace Prize.) As China grows wealthy, citizens with rice in their belly and children to consider are asking the right question, "How is our government serving us?" Often, they are finding a government Party that serves itself. And they are getting pissed off.

Bottom Line: Governments everywhere should work for citizens, not special interests. Although the problems in China indicate a government that is not serving its people, we (people in "developed" countries) also suffer from incompetent and/or corrupt government. Keep voting.

1 comment:

  1. What is the distinction between the "people" and the subset of them that form a "special interest." It seems that this discussion could benefit from some serious discussion of ethics. Rhetoric?


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