After years of environmental neglect, the pollution crisis is affecting China’s urban residents and foreign investors. Many factories are located in urban China and are in direct contact with the densely populated areas. According to Worldwatch Institute, China has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world (www.voanews.com). The smog and water contamination contribute to labor inequality as workers’ safety and the health of urban residents is threatened. The crisis also creates problems for China in the global market. Other countries, with stricter environmental and labor safety standards, will not continue to invest in China. For example, Foxconn, a leading manufacturer and supplier of Apple products, will lose investment from Apple if worker safety and pollution continue to be unregulated in China. In addition, with growing world concern of global warming and climate change (www.theguardian.com), China risks losing investment and trade if it cannot change. To continue growing foreign trade and investment, the Chinese Communist Party needs to appear to be committed to creating a safer environment.
A future potential pro-environmental position of the government will be a significant change. The pollution crisis in China has been building since Deng Xiaoping’s “open and reform” of the Chinese economy in the 1980s. The reason why this problem has not been solved already is because the government has prioritized economic growth over the people of China. The government does not care about the side effects if it means that China will be a top producer in the world. It has attracted foreign investment with cheap labor and minimal environmental standards. In addition, the government has a history of corruption when it comes to pollution regulation. One recent example includes “the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced a timeline for introducing new fuel standards, but state-owned oil and power companies block or ignore environmental policies to save on costs” (1-www.nytimes.com). Another is fraud in project approvals so the government does not have to apply emission control measures (2-www.nytimes.com). China’s focus on increased production and jobs has meant that it has accepted the pollution at any cost.
The government and domestic companies are the ones who benefit most from China’s growth. They are clearly more powerful than the Chinese laborers. The significance of the pollution and increasing world attention may change this situation, as decreasing foreign investment will negatively impact the government and the companies. Late last year, in fact, China and the United States made a Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation to help decrease the global pollution. This agreement will limit the amount of carbon pollution and target cleaner air standards. China will reduce its gas emissions so as to decrease global warming across the world (www.whitehouse.gov). China, it is hoped, is starting to deal with its pollution crisis.
This view that the Chinese Communist Party will lead this change, however, ignores some important facts. One, it will be very tough and a hard process and steps taken to regulate might not work out because China is already extremely contaminated. Two, with world attention on China’s pollution, there seems to be a new tension between the companies and the government of China because there is a possibility that Chinese companies will be forced to make their products in a different, cleaner way, and that will impact their profits. Since there is cheap labor in countries other than China, foreigners will invest elsewhere if China raises the cost of producing in an environmentally friendly way. In this situation, even if China tries to limit pollution, the state owned companies would not comply because they don’t want to lose money. This will likely force the government to soften any new laws and regulations.
In the end, it may likely prove difficult for the Chinese Communist Party to address the environmental issue completely. China will have to sacrifice its economic growth in order to make more of an effort to create safer and cleaner ways to produce effectively. If the Communist Party cannot solve this pressing issue, then the pollution levels may rise beyond the government’s control. China will run out of drinkable water. People will be forced to leave cities due to smog and unsafe air. China’s economic growth will stop and China may become unstable as the people grow increasingly upset with the government, leading to protests and riots. Eventually, no one will benefit from this crisis and the government will be forced to act. It may be only when it is looking directly at a disaster that the Chinese Communist Party will make the sacrifices necessary to see clearly into fixing China’s future.