Li Keqiang, China's new premier, offered an early sign of progress toward democracy in his initial press conference over the weekend.
But the big thrill for Li’s Chinese listeners must have been his
straight talk about air pollution: “I feel upset [by the heavy smog that
has blanketed Beijing and much of eastern China at times in recent
months].” He said, “To tackle the problems, we need an iron fist, firm
resolution and tough measures.”
The premier promised that a series of measures will phase out old factories and create a new development model.
level of PM2.5--particulate matter of 2.5 microns or smaller--reached
“very unhealthy” levels between 270 and 290 micrograms per cubic meter
on Sunday in Beijing. When I arrived in Shanghai on the same day, its
PM2.5 level was 84, according to the U.S. Consulate, deemed “unhealthy
where everyone may begin to experience health effects.” (Just to be
clear, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established
standards requiring a maximum daily PM2.5 level at any location no
greater than 65 micrograms per cubic meter, and the annual average no
greater than 15.)
I also grew up under heavy air pollutions in
Japan in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I have no illusions about what
the Chinese people, industry and government are up against. It’s easy to
criticize air polluters, but it takes a real commitment--from both
industry and government--to tackle the issue.
pursue economic growth at the expense of the environment,” Li said
during the press briefing. This is a realization that took the Japanese
government more than a decade. While I’m not certain how soon the new
Chinese leadership will actually act, I found solace in Li’s next
sentence: “Such growth won’t satisfy the people.”
Indeed. The key is the Chinese people.
over China’s air quality is a constant theme on China’s social network.
If the government is serious about tapping the aspirations of the
Chinese people, this is one issue the new leadership can’t ignore. I can
only hope the people can find a way to make their leaders as
accountable as Li says he wants to be.