Three parties in environmental politics

2007-06-18 - chong
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Originally written by Zhu Jiangang
Southern Metropolitan News
2007.6.17

Over th past 15 years, Wu Lihong has been complaining about the pollution of Tai Lake. In 2005, he was selected as the outstanding environmentalist of China. But he was arrested for fraudulent recently. He was accused of extorting money from enterprises. This accusation is not made the first time. In the eyes of the local government and the polluters, Wu is an unscrupulous criminal.

“We environmental protection department sees environmentalists as families and allies. We don't have any problem with them. We don't see them as enemies. ”said the vice-director of the Bureau of Environmental Protection. Previously banging on his desk, the chairperson of environment and resources committee said, “Wu Lihong is a law-abiding good citizen. What he did is good thing. His safety is endangered. You have to be responsible.” We should wait for the verdict of the court for knowing if Wu is a criminal. But from another perspective, in the environmental politics, we can see the power struggles between the political will of the central government, ordinary citizen's legal rights and local interest groups.

The background of this story is the incident of massive algae pollution of Tai Lake which affects the tap water supply for Wuxi citizens. At least the enterprises' massive pollution is the partial cause. Now environmental problems increasingly become related to people's health. Citizens, concerning their own interests, feel increasingly dissatisfied with environmental destruction. They no longer simply file complaint to government or waiting for good luck. They take action to fight for their homes and legal rights persistently. Wu Lihong plays the role of warrior in defense of the Tai Lake and keeps complaining about the misbehavior of enterprises. Some Shanghai citizens wrote letter to Prime Minister of Germany to oppose the pollution caused by the magnetic levitated railway between Shanghai and Hangzhou. The residents of Xiamen opposed the PX project just before the International Environmental Day. These incidents demonstrate ordinary citizens' power. If this kind of power cooperate with the will and policy of the central government, it will scare the interest groups who destroy environment and it might even concede.

Yet compared with the interest groups threatening or even destroying environment, these citizens' power of fighting for legal rights is still weak. China's political structure is not simply about state, market and civil society. It often involves the central policy with the will of the state, civic groups for legal rights and special interest groups, and their complicated negotiations.

If the local and special interest groups collaborate with some corrupted cadres and bend some particular policies into favoring and serving privileged interest group, the civil rights will be completely repressed. The people would be seen as rascals, enemies and underground rioters. If the special interest groups make compromise with or exchange interest with citizens, the people will stop their struggles. The central government's policy and regulation would fail to be implemented locally. For example, the property owner associations of some communities collaborate with property management companies to appropriate the fund for maintenance. The third scenario is that if the civil right activists could cooperate with the central policies, it will lead to a great power. The examples of the postponement of the Nujiang Dam, the public hearing on the construction of Yuanming Garden, and the deferment of the PX project in Xiamen show this possibility despite a lot of setbacks.

In China, these three scenarios might happen simultaneously and with no institutional guarantees. Citizens often face with uncertainty and a lack of regulation. There are a lot of weakness in the institution of citizen participation. Without institutional protection, the power struggles might lead to the first two scenarios. Not only do civil right activists suffer, but also is the will of the state challenged.

Besides, environmental threatening is not simply a national issue but also a global problem. Since last year, global warming has been widely understood as a result of people's unlimited development and the failure of global governance. In order to solve this problem, the international society understands that substantial citizen participation and effective actions are needed. This would avoid the two scenarios that both government and citizens lost.

Therefore, the recent series of environmental struggles teach us a lesson: Environmental protection needs effective governance. The government should also encourage and support citizens' substantial participation. It enables good interaction between citizens and the reforming force of the central government. Then the civic groups could effectively compete with the local and special interest groups. They may form a synergy of sustainable development leading to social harmony and justice.

In the incident of Wu Lihong, we see some government officials affirm Wu's achievement and effort. We see environmental groups petition for fair and open trial. We see media exposure and righteous lawyers standing out. We see ordinary people show support to Wu through internet. All of these come into the so-called civic power. Each part of it seems weak compared to the special interest group. But when they take action in alliance and cooperate with each other, a strong public opinion can emerge out it and has an impact on decision-makers. If they and the high-ranking cadres of the central government work closely, it would make an exemplary case and encourage more people to participate in public issues. We hope the incident of Wu Lihong would become a case for demonstration. We hope civic power can continue environmental protection in the Tai Lake. This is the age of politics of people's livelihood. No one can afford to neglect the public opinion of action.

Source: Jinning
(This photo is a scene of the Tai Lake)

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