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Monday, May 28, 2007

Media, NGOs help China become environmentally aware


Staff writer

The media and nongovernmental organizations are beginning to play a role in shaping China's environment protection policies as awareness of the costs of its rapid growth spreads among policymakers as well as the public, a group of Chinese journalists told a recent symposium in Tokyo.

They also called for increased cooperation from Japan and its companies to introduce more energy-saving technologies to help China balance its development needs with efforts to combat global warming.

Huang Jijun, an editor at China Environment News, told the May 18 event that interest in environmental issues has been spreading among the Chinese public over the past decade or so.

In the late 1990s, environmental protection had already become a major concern for government policymakers, but public awareness in those days was still meager and most Chinese people thought the main problem was disposal of toxic waste and other harmful materials, Huang said.

Today, a growing portion of the Chinese population shares the view that rapid economic growth will not be sustainable unless the country changes its conventional manufacturing methods that involve huge energy consumption, she told the audience.

And the Chinese media, with its increasing coverage of issues ranging from introduction of clean energy and water-saving efforts to punishments meted out to executives of businesses violating environmental regulations, is beginning to have a strong influence on the government's environment-related policies that was unthinkable in the past, according to Huang.

The media likewise serves to introduce to the Chinese public the latest environment-protection technologies of Japanese and other foreign firms, she said.

China has also seen the emergence of about 1,000 nongovernmental organizations that keep watch over government policies on environment issues and major development projects, and their role in society is similarly expanding, she noted.

Huang was one of five Chinese journalists invited by Keizai Koho Center, a public relations arm of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), for a series of visits to Japanese companies to study their environmental and energy-saving technologies.

Liu Huijuan from Economic Information Daily, an affiliate of the state-run Xinhua news agency, said the major polluters in China's industries can be found in such sectors as steel, power generation and cement, where large-scale state-owned enterprises still hold the dominant presence.

Wang Shengli, an editor at China Economic Times, meanwhile said smaller manufacturers — many of them strapped for cash as they face stiff domestic competition — cannot afford to replace obsolete equipment with new energy-efficient gear. He expressed hope that more Chinese firms can share in the energy-saving knowhow and experience of their Japanese counterparts.

Chen Hong, a senior research fellow with the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who accompanied the journalists on the visit, said China needs to change its investment patterns to resolve its various environment problems.

China has so far exported not only its products but its own environment at cheap prices, Chen said, as the so-called "factory of the world" produces low-level manufactured goods by consuming large amounts of energy and polluting its environment in the process.

The nation must reduce its per-GDP energy consumption by shifting more to service and high-tech industries, she added.



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