Friday, July 20, 2007

Tiptoeing "The Line"

I think it's fair to say that, if you have any interest in nowadays China, even be it mildly, this guy should be on your radar screen. He definitely is on mine, but always with this big questionmark: how long still before he drops off the screen, how long before a missile takes him out of the air ? 

Tiptoeing "the line" is feasible when you know where the line is drawn, but in China it can be moved around at random, which makes everyone inside it's borders virtually a sitting duck. Fate can strike at any time, depending on how it's being moved.  That makes "walking the line" an extremely dangerous game and those who practice it may be in for some rough times ahead. Pan Yue seems to be one of those, as can be gathered again from his two article series on "Chinadialogue" (here and here).


What do we mean by the phrase “green China”? We mean a China that is sustainable, democratic, fair, harmonious and socialist. This conclusion has been reached after many years of struggle. Each word is the distillation of the blood, sweat and tears of several generations. We want to build a green China because green is the color of life, of sustainability. For something to be called “green” it has to be sustainable – and currently China has yet to achieve sustainability.

How about that for an opening line ? In the first two sentences you got the summary of what Pan Yue is about: deputy director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), he's at the same time a senior government official but just as well as one of China's most outspoken critics of it's current development model. Remark the precedence the "sustainable" and "fair" take over the CCP buzzword "harmonious" and the "democratic" over the "socialist". He may well be in charge of environmental issues, but his criticism goes way beyond that.

We have always taken “development” to mean economic development alone, and this to mean the simple accumulation of wealth. As a result, the pursuit of wealth has become the sole aim of society. In theory, the value of all resources is determined by the market price, but the latent value of scarce resources such as land, water, the environment, and biodiversity has been ignored. Many social resources have been absorbed by projects designed to help people “get rich quick”. Blind investment, continual rebuilding and a lifestyle based on massive consumption have built up an enormous financial risk. At the same time, the extreme worship of wealth has lead to a decline in consideration for others and a breakdown in social ethics and values.

Clearly this is not your average Joe caring only about that tree in his garden. Pan Yue actually dares to take on the Chinese economic miracle and actively question it. Not today's results, which he doesn't deny, but the aftermath that is to come. The whole model of development gets scrutinized and it doesn't pass the test in his eyes. Along the way, some painful introspection is part of the journey:

The World Bank has said that no other country has seen such a large income disparity emerge in just 15 years. For so long we criticized capitalism for being unsustainable, unfair and unequal, but if our socialism cannot solve problems of social inequality, then how can we claim our system is superior ?

And then finally the candle on the cake:

The longer I am involved in environmental protection, the more I realize the importance of democracy and the legal system. I am convinced that environmental protection cannot be advanced by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) alone. It requires action from the whole of society, and the establishment and implementation of democracy, and a mature legal system. Environmental protection is the ideal field in which to experiment with democracy and law, because it is a fairly apolitical area and one on which it is reasonably easy to reach a consensus.

The fact that he is responsible for environmental issues, may indeed be the reason why he is still around. The environment up till now has been a fairly open topic to discuss without too much interference. With articles like these, I would be surprised if the rules of the game were not soon to change, but no matter how, China -and by extension the entire world, since, let's face it, most of the countries we live in have not yet been shining examples in the environmental field either- will sooner or later have to answer to the questions that Pan is raising today. He's giving a wake-up call to the Chinese society in particular to start changing it's destructive habits and reorganize the value chain. The means he is advocating to do that, may bring him in the line of fire one day, but as long as he is able to tiptoe that invisible line, China AND the world had better listen to what he got to say. Every minute that he and the likes of his are out there should increase our hopes and confidence that China in the end will find the right balance, which will be to the benefit the entire world. If that were to become true, then China can rightfully and proudly call itself a "social"-ist state.


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