It is becoming increasingly evident that public opinion in China is affecting the ability of officials to launch big projects by decree—a quality of the government’s autocratic system that Communist Party officials have long compared favorably against the inertia of India’s messy democracy.
Over the past few years, ordinary citizens have stepped up pressure on local governments to cancel major industrial projects that could worsen already astronomical pollution levels on China’s eastern seaboard. That trend has accelerated recently, as the Wall Street Journal notes:
The cancellation over the weekend of a second Chinese industrial project in a month following fierce environmental protests demonstrates the government’s growing sensitivity to China’s pollution problems.
Officials in the coastal community of Qidong in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu said Saturday that they would stop construction of a pipeline intended to dump wastewater from a Japanese-owned paper mill into the sea. Worries about pollution sparked protests early Saturday that the state-run Xinhua news agency said drew thousands.
Earlier this month in Shifang, a small city in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, officials similarly decided to cancel construction of a metals plant after protesters violently clashed with local police.
In light of these and related concerns over the contamination of China’s food, water, and air, the government is taking real steps to reduce pollution, the most significant of which is an effort to run all power plants—and a lot more vehicles—on natural gas rather than dirtier energy sources like coal.
Economic development enables environmental conservation; people only accept pollution when they don’t think they have a choice. A richer China will be a cleaner China.