The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
You Couldn't Pay Us to Swim in a Chinese River

Here’s a deal we wouldn’t be in a hurry to take: A Chinese entrepreneur will pay the local environmental protection chief 200,000 yuan (about $32,000) to take a 20 minute swim in an extremely polluted river. Looking to highlight the sorry state of the environment in his province and the widespread practice of industrial dumping into rivers, the entrepreneur posted his challenge on a Chinese microblogging website this weekend. The South China Morning Post reports:

In three photos Jin posted, a river in small-town Ruian is seen entirely blocked by floating rubbish. Jin blamed a rubber overshoe factory for dumping industrial waste into the river.

This river was where villagers used to wash vegetables and clothes in his childhood, Jin told Chinanews.com.

Asked for comment, Ruian’s environmental protection bureau chief, Bao Zhenmin, acknowledged the river was polluted, the report said. But he said the rubbish is from people, and not factories.

We’re in no position to say who is right here, but the spotty environmental record of Chinese industry would suggest that the factories are not blameless here. With that in mind, it’s looking unlikely that anyone will be going for a swim this week.

It’s obvious by now that China’s industry is devastating its environment, and that China needs to do more to stop this from happening. But rather than adopting the traditional green solution and cutting back on economic development, China needs to develop more quickly. The sooner China shifts to a post-manufacturing information economy, the sooner it can shed its reliance on the large-scale, low-cost manufacturing that is doing such damage to its environment. And with manufacturing jobs slowly moving to lower-cost locales elsewhere in Asia, China’s economy could benefit from the shift as well.

Published on February 19, 2013 7:56 am