Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 13, 2015

Competing goals

Sometimes the limits of a state's capacity are not set by skills, wealth, knowledge, or good luck. What are the political and economic costs of cleaning (or not cleaning) the air in China?

The cost of clean air: Measures to combat air pollution are biting hard in industrial areas already hit by an economic slowdown
Last year on a typically smoggy day in Beijing, Li Keqiang, the prime minister, declared “war” on air pollution—a problem that has become a national fixation. Smog remains a grave danger in most Chinese cities, but environmental measures are beginning to show teeth. Regulators in the most polluted provinces are ordering mass closures of offending enterprises. In some areas officials are being punished for failing to control pollution…

The transformation will be painful. China’s new toughness on polluting quarries, mills and factories coincides with an economic slowdown that will make it harder to create new jobs for those laid off…

Mr Li’s war is especially bloody in Hebei, which is blamed for much of the smog in Beijing. Keeping the air of the capital clean is a political priority. Chinese leaders have been embarrassed by the damage caused to China’s international image by the city’s relentlessly grey skies. They worry that the smog could fuel dissatisfaction with the government and undermine stability in the capital, as well as affect their own and their families’ health…

On February 2nd the Ministry of Environmental Protection named China’s ten most-polluted cities in 2014. Seven of them were in Hebei province (a perennial winner of this grim contest)…

Farther from Beijing, in places where the anxieties of leaders in the capital are felt less keenly, some officials have been trying to shift attention away from the polluting industries that keep people in work. In Dazhou, in the south-western province of Sichuan, officials last month blamed their city’s smog on the smoking of bacon (a popular practice in local cuisine), provoking mockery online…

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