A few days later, the tally had gone to 3,000, then 6,000 and now it has been reported that 13,000 hogs would have been thrown in the river.
Reuters said that this draws “attention to an ugly truth - China's pig farms are often riddled with disease and one way or another, sick animals often end up in the food chain.” The news agency added: “authorities have found traces of a common pig virus in some of the animals floating in the Huangpu River and industry insiders say farmers likely dumped them”
Let us remember that pork is a staple meat in China and its swine population is the world's largest with 475 million heads.
This year, the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese parliament followed the great Communist tradition of ‘voting’ to elect its new leaders for the next 5 or 10 years, with most of the new team receiving 99 % or more of the votes of the 3000-odd NPC delegates.
However, one issue triggered countless comments from the Chinese netizens: though 2,952 delegates voted ‘yes’ in favour of Xi Jinping becoming China's new president, there was a lone ‘no’ vote. It attracted a lot of attention on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, as bloggers remembered that in 1949, Zhang Dongsun, a philosopher and former CPPCC delegate, had voted against Mao. He was later killed for his alleged incorrect behavour. Hopefully it will not happen this time around as times have changed in the Kingdom.
However many observers have noted the results of the vote for the NPC's Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee; the new Committee had some 850 negative votes and 125 abstentions, a third of the total votes; this needs to be entered in China’s Guinness Book of Records.
Most of the almost 3,000 NPC deputies greeted the result with a long boo, before clapping as the decision was approved.
Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian won the least recognition from delegates, receiving 2,734 ‘yes’, the lowest among 25 ministers.
The Hong Kong newspaper commented: “The unusually strong opposition vote showed that even the mainland's legislators - one-third of whom are government officials - can no longer bear its filthy air and water.”
A day later, the new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged that his government would "show even greater resolve" in tackling the pollution issue.
During his maiden press conference as Premier, Li encouraged increased public participation in cleaning China's environment: “This government will show even greater resolve and take more vigorous efforts to clean up such pollution." He added: “We need to face the situation and punish offenders with no mercy and enforce the law with an iron fist.”
These are strong words in the mouth of a Chinese Premier, but the situation is bad indeed. The Washington Post correspondent, Debra Bruno described Beijing thus: “I woke up in my dark bedroom the other day, head pounding and mouth dry. Before I even got out of bed, I knew that Beijing was having one of its hazardous-air-quality days. …On a similar day a few days before, I’d walked only 10 minutes from my apartment to my friend’s place. By the time I got there, my coat, scarf and hair smelled the way they would have smelled after a night in a smoky bar followed by a couple of hours standing behind a car’s exhaust pipe.” Can you believe it?
Even Li Keqiang admits: “We shouldn't pursue economic growth at the expense of the environment. Such growth won't satisfy the people.”
Radio Free Asia asserted that toxic chemicals have been found in the ‘pea-soup’ smogs hanging over Beijing, Tianjin and surrounding areas.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) admitted that large amounts of organic nitrogen compounds were detected in Beijing smog in January.
Observers called it airpocalypse.
But it is not only air and pigs; the issue is compounded by Government policies. China’s State Council (Cabinet) recently published the blueprint for the nations’ energy sector for the years 2011-15. An eight-year old ban on five megadams on the Nu River (also known as Salween) was lifted, totally ignoring environmentalists’ concerns about geologic and seismic hazards, loss of biodiversity, hazardous resettlement, as well as serious impacts on downstream nations.
Katy Yan, China Program Coordinator for the environmental NGO International Rivers stated: “China's plans to go ahead with dams on the Nu, as well as similar projects on the Upper Yangtze and Mekong, shows a complete disregard of well-documented seismic hazards, ecological and social risks”.
When in 2003 13 dams on the Salween were first planned, then Premier Wen Jiabao, a geologist by profession, put his foot down and stopped the work.
Now, the dam lobbies, particularly the Huadian Corporation have managed to convince the State Council to agree to proceed with the projects; particularly the Songta Dam, the highest upstream dam in the cascade located in Tibet which is to be completed during the 2011-15 period.
Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “China expects 60,000 people to lose their homes in the remote southwest if a series of four dams along the country's last free-flowing river gets the go-ahead.”
The most ironical part is that the river is supposedly protected by UNESCO.
Defenders of ‘development-first’ can always argue that it is nothing compared to the massive Three Gorges Dam which cost China US$ 59 billion and for which, during the 17 years it took to complete the project, 1.3 million people were relocated.
What is frightening is that Beijing has now decided to ‘urbanize’ China. The priority for the new leaders is to shift people from the countryside to cities in order to sustain economic growth which last year ‘stagnated’ at 7.8 %, a 13-year low. Though many warned that China's urbanization can only fuel social unrest and more pollution, the government hopes that 60 % of China's 1.4 billion population will be urbanized by 2020.
It is a ticking time-bomb as most of the recent violent clashes in China occurred over expropriation of farmland for development and pollution.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese new President in his inaugural speech told his countrymen that he will put “arduous efforts for the continued realization of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation and the Chinese dream”.
Xi also touched on corruption which he has called a threat to the party’s grip on power, and urged delegates to “oppose hedonism and flamboyant lifestyles”.
He also pledged to fight corruption, saying that the government had an “unshakable resolve” to do so, adding: “Clean government should start with oneself. Since we have chosen public service we should give up all thought of making money.”
As the adynaton says, ‘when pigs fly’, many things will happen. One can just hope that environmental issues will be tackled before the pigs start flying.
What about India? For over 30 years I have heard that the Ganga and the Yamuna rivers will soon be clean. But the problem is not cleaning the rivers or the air, it is to stop polluting. As long as wealthy well-connected businessmen continue to pour their waste into the ‘sacred’ rivers of India, the question of cleaning them is pointless.
Let us not wait for the cows to fly!