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How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

A ChinaFile Conversation

Elizabeth Economy:

The environment is center stage once again in China. A Chinese lawyer has requested the findings of a national survey on soil pollution from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and been denied on the grounds that the information is a state secret. (The government had previously announced that 10 percent of China’s farmland was contaminated, but no details were provided.) The public and media are now pressing the Ministry to reverse its decision.

Why the secrecy? To begin with, the Chinese government’s initial reaction to almost any request for information is to say no. It is simply reflexive on Beijing’s part. Second, to provide details on the types, levels, and location of soil contamination throughout the country would inevitably cause serious financial hardship to farmers, who may be knowingly or unknowingly selling tainted produce, force an entire countrywide evaluation of the likely pollution sources for the contamination, and cause a widespread public health outcry Third, remediating contaminated soil on such a large scale is a costly, time-consuming, challenging project. No doubt the Ministry of Environmental Protection would like to figure out how it might begin the process and develop a plan to do so before it is forced to respond to public anger.

One potentially positive sign: there are rumors that one of the current Vice-Ministers of the Environment, Pan Yue, will be appointed Minister at the upcoming National People’s Congress. This would be a substantial step forward. Pan—who has been kept out of the public eye for the past several years—has been a champion of transparency. A number of years ago, he pushed an initiative to adopt a Green GDP, which was designed to estimate the economic costs associated with China’s environmental pollution and degradation. The effort failed due to the recalcitrance of local provincial officials, as well as the disinterest of the environment agency’s partner, the National Bureau of Statistics. Pan is also outspoken in his support of non-governmental organizations and willingness to cooperate with them.

In the end, I think the information will be released. There is little justification to protect data on soil contamination, when the Ministry has already acknowledged the right of the people to have access to air quality statistics. More importantly, I think this is just the beginning. The “public’s right to know” along with the Internet are likely to be the two great transformative political processes of the next three to five years.

Responses

How do we explain a situation in which a country is, on the one hand, suffocating from toxic air pollution, toxic soil, drinking water laced with poisonous chemicals and food that is adulterated, while on the other hand is actively attempting to hide the government findings that might expose the problem and lead to a remedy?

Of course, such contradictions are not unknown in the world at-large, especially where governments are involved. But in contemplating China, we run into a somewhat unique situation. As Justice Louis Brandeis famously noted, “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.” In China we have a country with a long history of both Confucianism and then Marxism-Leninism, two political traditions whose predominant ideologies were consecrated not to “sunlight,” but to re-enforcing the infallibility and authority of the state and its leaders. In both instances the institutions of education and media, such as they were, were viewed not as independent actors whose goals were to uncover truth, but rather handmaidens of the state and adjuncts to state power.

Thus, what we are witnessing today when China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection refuses to grant a lawyer’s request for government-generated information on the grounds that these are “state secrets” is an expression of one part of China’s now deeply divided self which is in contention with the another. These two contradictory aspects of Chinese society-in-the-process-of-self-reinvention might be described as the “old” vs “the new”: as the retrograde impulse never to release any information that makes the state look bad colliding with the new impulse that was encouraged by Deng Xiaoping with his annunciation of the need “to seek truth from facts” which has been updated by the more recent notion of “scientific development.”

The truth is that both China’s ideological framework and its political system are locked in a state of eternal transition (and tension), making the country perhaps the least “resolved” nation of consequence on the planet today. While every nation must embrace myriad contradictions, China’s lack of foundational beliefs, or of even a confirmed political system, when coupled with its eternal state of reform, makes it very vulnerable to this kind of mind-boggling contrariness. But, what it bespeaks is of a country and society in a very profound, long-term state of destabilizing transition, one that cannot really be understood unless one is able to maintain equal and opposite forces as happening simultaneously in one’s head at the same time.

Under such a circumstance, it is hardly surprising that the release of potentially embarrassing environmental information that protects people’s health and saves people’s lives, which has become the official rule-of-the road in China on the one hand, still collides with the old abiding and very retrograde, impulse to control and censor information that risks making the state and Party look bad.

How long can China keep pollution data a state secret? The very fact that we can ask this question – that the answer is not obviously “As long as the government wants” – tells us something interesting about recent legal and political developments in China. And it sheds new light on the old question, “Does law matter in China?”

The Caixin web site recently reported that Lawyer Dong Zhengwei made a request to the Ministry of the Environment under the “Regulations on Open Government Information” that its data on soil pollution be made public. In response, the MOE stated that the information could not be released as it was a state secret.

The substance of this story is no surprise. Of course the government does not want to release this information. But think about how this scenario would have played out not so many years ago: (1) Lawyer requests information. (2) No response. And this could have happened whether or not there were regulations on open government information.

Instead, the existence of these regulations combined with a shift in what for want of a better term we might call legal culture has meant that the MOE apparently feels the need to respond in some way. It has to come up with a justification for not revealing the data. And that means it has to put itself in the embarrassing position of lamely claiming that this information is a state secret, implying that releasing it would somehow harm national interests.

Let’s make two assumptions: (1) an action based on an explicit rationale is easier to criticize than one for which no rationale is supplied; and (2) government officials and agencies would, all other things being equal, prefer not to put themselves in the position of exposing themselves to criticism. If you buy those two assumptions, then at the margin we should expect to see more information being made available as a result of the regulations.

In other words, this law matters not because there is some institution out there (for example, courts) that can force the government to reveal information, but because the very procedure, even if it results in an effectively unreviewable decision not to disclose, puts some pressure on government to operate differently from the way in which it has operated in the past.

We see exactly this kind of pressure operating here. The very existence of the law on open government information, without changing in any way the government’s arbitrary power to designate information as a state secret, has nevertheless changed things and made it meaningful to ask how long the government can keep this particular data secret.

Some may find it strange that the official state media is out front lambasting the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) for hiding of soil pollution survey data.   What’s happening is that the competition from commercial media and Internet is forcing state media to change too. The official publications are trying to expand their audience by shoring up their fraying credibility.     Hard-hitting criticism of the government is the way to sound more credible to the public. You can see this effort particularly in the weibo microblogs that the Communist Party central mouthpiece, People’s Daily has started posting.   The sharply critical tone is light years away from the dull defensive officialese of the print newspaper.   

Global Times is a commercial publication focused on international affairs that is part of the People’s Daily media group.    Beginning in the 1990s it attracted a huge audience by publishing exciting stories that dramatize foreign threats and stoke anti-foreign nationalism.    But now it is facing competition too.   And some young Netizens are questioning whether Global Times’ steady diet of hyper nationalism is simply the way the Party is trying to distract them from the serious domestic problems in their own backyard.  That’s why Global Times, led by its editor, Hu Xijin who has become a lightning rod for the debate over nationalism has started to post weibo criticizing the government about domestic problems.

The commercialization of the media – and its challenge to the credibility of information provided by the official media and the government itself – also drove the Chinese Communist Party to embrace of the norm of transparency, which is articulated in the Open Government Information Regulations that were enacted in May 2008.   This law is the basis for Mr. Dong Zhengwei’s request for the MEP to release the soil pollution data. I’d bet a lot that the new leadership will overrule the MEP and require it to release the data; the only question is whether they do it right away on the eve of the important National People’s Congress meeting about to open or shortly afterward. 

There are two tendencies at war here: the one that has been pushing for transparency and the public right to know, and the one that prefers to classify potentially embarrassing information as a state secret. This is a serious conflict which plays out in confusing results. The progressive group, in which Pan Yue played such an important part, succeeded in 2008 in getting Measures on Open Environmental Information (for Trial Implementation) Pan Yue himself, before he had to retreat into purdah, held the famous public hearings on the environmental impact of the proposed Old Summer Palace lake to demonstrate that public consultation and discussion was essential if good decisions were to result.

Since then, there has been a lot of progress, but it is patchy. Some city governments set up websites and publish environmental data as a matter of routine that would have been nigh impossible to get only five years ago. At the same time, there has been a lot of push back, notably over the refusal to publish EIAs on controversial dam projects and the repeated controversies over air quality data in Beijing, recently reprised in the great smog.

Soil pollution, for all the reasons that Elizabeth outlines, is especially sensitive: like air and water pollution, it has direct consequences for public health, but because it affects the food chain these can go much wider than local impacts. Four years ago, chinadialogue attempted to research the health impacts of pollution in Dongguan, including the impacts of soil pollution. We encountered repeated refusals to give us access to essential data: what were the pollutants; where was the soil contaminated; how badly and so on. It was possible to get hold of data at provincial level, but not possible to get the kind of detail that would allow us to relate it to local contamination or local impacts.

The many ways in which this data was refused are described in the report we produced. Then, as now, the health impacts of China’s pollution crisis come into the category of information that the government does not want the citizens to know.

The controversy over PM2.5 in December 2011, the recent public outcry over Beijing’s smog and the high nitrogen levels in air and water pollution, can be read as progress. In the recent smog episode, even normally compliant media criticized official reluctance to produce honest data and complained that is damaged the relationship of trust between the citizen and the government. The government now does publish PM2.5 data and the challenge of hand held testing devices in the hands of ordinary citizens is forcing transparency in practice as well as on paper. It is not hard to imagine that similar citizen testing of soil could force the authorities to respond positively.

But that will be decided by the new administration that will be confirmed in the upcoming NPC. Surely this timing is one factor in the public spat now over the right to information. The media are responding, as they now must, to public anger; they are also lining up with those who wish the new government to move in the right direction.

After all, information both guides action and, in the hands of the citizens, obliges the government to act. That means taking on big vested interests and, if not changing the industrial model, at least enforcing the many rules and regulations that currently languish in neglect. It might even make the case for the rule of law. It is, potentially, a pivotal moment.

Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s...
Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate...
Donald Clarke is a professor at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in modern Chinese law, focusing particularly on corporate governance,...
Susan L. Shirk is the chair of the 21st Century China Program and Ho Miu Lam Professor of China and Pacific Relations at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at UC San...
Isabel Hilton is a London-based international journalist and broadcaster. She studied at the Beijing Foreign Language and Culture University and at Fudan University in Shanghai before taking up a...

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What’s Behind China’s Recent Internet Crackdown?

THE EDITORS, XIAO QIANG & more

The Editors:Last weekend, Charles Xue Manzi, a Chinese American multi-millionaire investor and opinion leader on one of China’s most popular microblogs, appeared in handcuffs in an interview aired on China Central Television (CCTV). Xue is just the most visible blogger to be...

Conversation

09.13.13

What Can China and Japan Do to Start Anew?

PAULA S. HARRELL & CHEN WEIHUA

Paula S. Harrell:While the media keeps its eye on the ongoing Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute, heating up yet again this week after Chinese naval ships and aircraft were spotted circling the area, a parallel, possibly game-changing development in China-Japan relations has gone...

Conversation

09.09.13

What Are Chinese Attitudes Toward a U.S. Strike in...

CHEN WEIHUA, VINCENT NI & more

Chen Weihua:Chinese truly believe that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, a U.S. air strike would only worsen the situation there. Chinese have seen many failures of U.S. intervention in the Middle East in the past decade.The U.S. clearly is...

Conversation

09.05.13

To Reform or Not Reform?—Echoes of the Late Qing...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & more

Orville Schell:It is true that China is no longer beset by threats of foreign incursion nor is it a laggard in the world of economic development and trade. But being there and being steeped in an atmosphere of seemingly endless political and economic tension where questions of...

Conversation

08.28.13

Beijing, Why So Tense?

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Andrew Nathan:I think of the Chinese leaders as holding a plant spritzer and dousing sparks that are jumping up all around them.  Mao made the famous remark, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”  The leaders have seen that terrifying truth confirmed in the pro...

Conversation

08.21.13

Is Xi Jinping Redder Than Bo Xilai Or Vice Versa?

MICHAEL ANTI & SHAI OSTER

Michael Anti:Competing for Redness: The Scarlet Bo vs the Vermilion Xi?Bo Xilai, the fallen Chinese princeling famous for leading a “Red Songs” communist campaign in southwest China's megacity Chongqing, is on trial today, live-Twittered from Jinan in Shandong province, east...

Conversation

08.15.13

What Should China Do to Reverse its Tourism Deficit?

THE EDITORS, LEAH THOMPSON & more

The Editors: Recent news stories and industry studies show that fewer international visitors are choosing China as their destination. January-June arrivals in Beijing are down 15% from the same period in 2012 and more Chinese than ever before are spending their money to travel...

Conversation

08.07.13

What Will Come out of the Communist Party’s Polling...

DAVID WERTIME, DUNCAN CLARK & more

David Wertime:Simon Denyer’s recent article (“In China, Communist Party Takes Unprecedented Step: It Is Listening,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2013) provides a valuable look at some of the ways that Chinese authority mines domestic micro-blogging platforms like Weibo...

Conversation

08.01.13

How Dangerous Are Sino-Japanese Tensions?

JEROME A. COHEN

Sino-Japanese relations do not look promising at the moment. Obviously, the Diaoyu-Senkaku dispute is not the only factor in play but it does focus nationalist passions on both sides. Yet both countries are capable of wiser conduct if their leaders can manage to rise above the...

Conversation

07.30.13

Is Business in China Getting Riskier, Or Are...

ARTHUR R. KROEBER , DAVID SCHLESINGER & more

Arthur Kroeber:The environment for foreign companies in China has been getting steadily tougher since 2006, when the nation came to the end of a five-year schedule of market-opening measures it pledged as the price of admission to the World Trade Organization. Soon after the WTO-...

Conversation

07.25.13

The Bo Xilai Trial: What’s It Really About?

THE EDITORS, JEROME A. COHEN & more

The Editors:China has charged disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai with bribery, abuse of power and corruption, paving the way for a potentially divisive trial. But what’s at stake goes beyond the fate of one allegedly corrupt official: Is it really a fight between factions in...

Conversation

07.23.13

What Would a Hard Landing in China Mean for the World?

BARRY NAUGHTON, JAMES MCGREGOR & more

Barry Naughton:Paul Krugman in a recent post (“How Much Should We Worry About a China Shock?” The New York Times, July 20, 2013) tells us NOT to worry about the impact of a slowing China on global exports, but to be worried, very worried about the indirect and unanticipated...

Conversation

07.18.13

Xu Zhiyong Arrested: How Serious Can Beijing Be About...

DONALD CLARKE, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

Donald Clarke:When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka Seltzer to settle an upset constitution. I searched the web site of The New...

Conversation

07.16.13

What’s the Senate’s Beef with China’s Play for...

THE EDITORS, ARTHUR R. KROEBER & more

The Editors:Last week the U.S. Senate held hearings to question the CEO of meat-producer Smithfield Farms, about the proposed $4.7 billion sale of the Virginia-based company to Shuanghui International, China’s largest pork producer. The sale is under review by the Committee on...

Conversation

07.09.13

What Is the “Chinese Dream” Really All About?

STEIN RINGEN, JEREMY GOLDKORN & more

Stein Ringen:I’m coming to the view that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is a signal from the leadership of great import that has much to say about the nature of the Chinese state. It is striking, in my opinion, how effectively and rapidly the system swung into action to interpret and...

Conversation

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

THE EDITORS, FEI WANG & more

The Editors: Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the core provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act is not only “a stride toward greater equality in the United States, but also a shift that will reverberate far beyond our shores,” wrote novelist and...

Conversation

06.27.13

Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR, WINSTON LORD & more

Roderick MacFarquhar:Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader.  Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn't...

Conversation

06.25.13

How Badly Have Snowden’s Leaks Hurt U.S.-China...

MATT SCHIAVENZA

Matt Schiavenza:In the understatement of the day, the United States is unhappy with the recent developments of the Edward Snowden situation. Just three days ago, Washington was in negotiations with Hong Kong to file a warrant for Snowden's arrest, a process which the U.S. hoped...

Conversation

06.21.13

How Should the World Prepare for a Slower China?

ARTHUR R. KROEBER & PATRICK CHOVANEC

Get Ready for a Slower ChinaThe recent gyrations on the Chinese interbank market underscore that the chief risk to global growth now comes from China. Make no mistake: credit policy will tighten substantially in the coming months, as the government tries to push loan growth from...

Conversation

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on...

THE EDITORS, SHAI OSTER & more

The Editors: For today’s ChinaFile Conversation we asked contributors to react to the following excerpt from an op-ed published on Monday June 17 in the Global Times about Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old American contract intelligence analyst who last week in Hong Kong...

Conversation

06.13.13

Who’d You Rather Be Watched By: China or the U.S.?

THE EDITORS, TAI MING CHEUNG & more

Editor’s note:Reports of U.S. gathering data on emails and phone calls have stoked fears of an over-reaching government spying on its citizens. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei worries that China will use the U.S. as an example to bolster its argument for surveillance on dissidents....

Conversation

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U....

NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, SHARON HOM & more

Nicholas Bequelin:The best way to advance human rights in the U.S.-China relationship is first and foremost to recognize that the engine of human rights progress in China today is the Chinese citizenry itself. Such progress is neither the product of a gradual enlightenment of the...

Conversation

06.06.13

What Would the Best U.S.-China Joint Statement Say?

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & more

As we approach the June 7-8 meeting in California of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping we are holding a small contest. We have asked ChinaFile Conversation regulars and a few guests to envision their ideal Sunnylands summit and then write the joint...

Conversation

06.04.13

How Would Facing Its Past Change China’s Future?

DAVID WERTIME, ISABEL HILTON & more

David Wertime:The memory of the 1989 massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square remains neither alive nor dead, neither reckoned nor obliterated. Instead, it hangs spectre-like in the background, a muted but latently powerful symbol of resistance.There’s no question that an...

Conversation

05.29.13

What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California...

SUSAN SHIRK, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Susan Shirk:It’s an excellent idea for President Obama and President Xi to spend two days of quality time together at a private retreat in Southern California. Past meetings between Chinese and American presidents have been too short, formal and scripted for them to develop a...

Conversation

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations...

MICHAEL KULMA, MARK FRAZIER & more

Mike Kulma:Earlier this week at an Asia Society forum on U.S.-China economic relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger remarked that when the U.S. first started down the path of normalizing relations with China in the early 1970s, the economic relationship and trade between the two...

Conversation

05.21.13

U.S.-China Economic Relations—What Will the Next...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

On Monday, within hours of the announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on a visit to California on June 7-8, Tung Chee-hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, introduced former U.S....

Conversation

05.16.13

China: What’s Going Right?

MICHAEL ZHAO, JAMES FALLOWS & more

Michael Zhao:On a recent trip to China, meeting mostly with former colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I got a dose of optimism and hope for one aspect of the motherland. In terms of science, or laying down a solid foundation for better science to come, things are...

Conversation

05.14.13

Why Can’t China Make Its Food Safe?—Or Can It?

ALEX WANG, JOHN C. BALZANO & more

The month my wife and I moved to Beijing in 2004, I saw a bag of oatmeal at our local grocery store prominently labeled: “NOT POLLUTED!” How funny that this would be a selling point, we thought.But 7 years later as we prepared to return to the US, what was once a joke had...

Conversation

05.10.13

What’s China’s Game in the Middle East?

RACHEL BEITARIE, MASSOUD HAYOUN & more

Rachel Beitarie:Xi Jinping’s four point proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is interesting not so much for its content, as for its source. While China has maintained the appearance of being involved in Middle East politics for years, its top leaders, so far,...

Conversation

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese...

RACHEL LU, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

With a population base of 1.3 billion people, China has no shortage of strange and gruesome crimes, but the attempted murder of Zhu Ling by thallium poisoning in 1995 is burning up China’s social media long after the trails have gone cold. Zhu, a brilliant and beautiful...

Conversation

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm...

THE EDITORS, STEPHANIE T. KLEINE-AHLBRANDT & more

On April 30, as tensions around China’s claims to territories in the South- and East China Seas continued to simmer, we began what proved to be a popular ChinaFile Conversation, asking the question, What's Really at the Core of China’s ‘Core Interests’? The participants...

Conversation

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core...

SHAI OSTER, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

Shai Oster:It’s Pilates diplomacy—work on your core. China’s diplomats keep talking about China’s core interests and it’s a growing list. In 2011, China included its political system and social stability as core interests. This year, it has added a vast chunk of the...

Conversation

04.25.13

Hollywood in China—What’s the Price of Admission?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, YING ZHU & more

Last week, DreamWorks Animation (DWA), the Hollywood studio behind the worldwide blockbuster Kung Fu Panda films, announced that it will cooperate with the China Film Group (CFG) on an animated feature called Tibet Code, an adventure story based on a series of recent Chinese...

Conversation

04.23.13

How Would You Spend (the Next) $300 Million on U.S.-...

ORVILLE SCHELL & MICHAEL KULMA

Orville Schell:When Stephen A. Schwarzman announced his new $300 million program aimed at sending foreign scholars to Tsinghua University in Beijing the way Rhodes Scholarship, set up by the businessman and statesman Cecil Rhodes in 1902 began sending American scholars to Oxford...

Conversation

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, BARRY NAUGHTON & more

Slower Chinese GDP growth is not a bad thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. But it’s not happening for the right reasons.Instead of reining in credit to try to curb over-investment, Chinese authorities have allowed a renewed explosion in credit in an effort to fuel...

Conversation

04.16.13

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press?

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & more

To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.  In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda Department.  That’s the first...

Conversation

04.11.13

Why Is Chinese Soft Power Such a Hard Sell?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, DONALD CLARKE & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:Chairman Mao Zedong said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and he knew a thing or two about power, both hard and soft. If you have enough guns, you have respect. Money is the same: if you have enough cash, you can buy guns, and respect.Israel and Saudi...

Conversation

04.03.13

Bird Flu Fears: Should We Trust Beijing This Time?

DAVID WERTIME, YANZHONG HUANG & more

David Wertime:A new strain of avian flu called H7N9 has infected at least seven humans and killed three in provinces near the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai, with the first death occurring on March 4. Meanwhile, in the last month, about 16,000 pigs, 1,000 ducks, and a few swans...

Conversation

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What...

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:On March 22, before the foreign media or Apple themselves seemed to have grasped the seriousness of the CCTV attacks on the Californian behemoth, I wrote a post on Danwei.com that concluded:“The signs are clear that regulators and establishment media would both...

Conversation

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, DAMIEN MA & more

Patrick Chovanec:This week’s news that Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement gave a renewed boost to excited chatter over the rising influence of China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB). The belief, in many quarters, is that the renminbi is well on...

Conversation

03.26.13

Can China Transform Africa?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:The question is all wrong. China is already transforming Africa, the question is how China is transforming Africa, not whether it can. From the “China shops”—small stores selling cheap clothing, bags, and kitchenware—that have become ubiquitous in Southern...

Conversation

03.19.13

China’s New Leaders Say They Want to Fight Corruption...

ANDREW J. NATHAN & OUYANG BIN

In his first press conference after taking office as China's new premier, Li Keqiang declared that one of his top priorities would be to fight corruption, because “Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and water.” This put Li on message...

Conversation

03.15.13

Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure...

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ALEXA OLESEN & more

Dorinda Elliott:China’s recent decision to phase out the agency that oversees the one-child policy has raised questions about whether the policy itself will be dropped—and whether it was a success or a failure.Aside from the burdens only children feel when it comes...

Conversation

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All...

SUN YUNFAN, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

This week, the ChinaFile Conversation is a call for reactions to an article about China's current generation gap, written by James Palmer, a Beijing-based historian, author, and Global Times editor. The article, first published by Aeon in the U.K., “The Balinghou: Chinese...

Conversation

03.08.13

Will China’s Property Market Crash, and So What If It...

DORINDA ELLIOTT & BILL BISHOP

Dorinda Elliott:At this week’s National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed that the government kept housing prices from rising too fast. Really? I wonder what my 28-year-old Shanghainese friend Robert thinks about that. He and his fiancée could never...

Conversation

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign...

ORVILLE SCHELL, SUSAN SHIRK & more

Orville Schell:What may end up being most significant about the new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea, which China seems willing to sign, may not be what it amounts to in terms of denuclearizing the DPRK, but what it...

Conversation

03.01.13

Is America’s Door Really Open to China’s Investment...

DANIEL H. ROSEN, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Daniel Rosen:There have not been many new topics in U.S.-China economic relations over the past decade: the trade balance, offshoring of jobs, Chinese holding of U.S. government debt, whether China’s currency is undervalued and intellectual property protection problems have...

Conversation

02.22.13

Will Investment in China Grow or Shrink?

DONALD CLARKE & DAVID SCHLESINGER

Donald Clarke:I don’t have the answer as to whether investment in China will grow or shrink, but I do have a few suggestions for how to think about the question. First, we have to clarify why we want to know the answer to this question: what do we think it will tell us? This...

Conversation

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, JAMES FALLOWS & more

Jonathan Landreth:With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor Elizabeth Economy on the road, I turned to her colleague Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Segal said that “the time for naming and...

Conversation

02.15.13

U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do?

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ELIZABETH ECONOMY & more

Dorinda Elliott:On a recent trip to China, I heard a lot of scary talk of potential war over the disputed Diaoyu Islands—this from both senior intellectual types and also just regular people, from an elderly calligraphy expert to a middle-aged history professor. People seemed...

Conversation

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How...

WINSTON LORD, TAI MING CHEUNG & more

China is increasingly frustrated with North Korea and may even see more clearly that its actions only serve to increase allied unity, stimulate Japanese militarism and accelerate missile defense. For all these reasons the U.S. should lean on Beijing to—at last—not only help...

Conversation

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to...

ANDREW J. NATHAN, SUSAN SHIRK & more

Andrew Nathan:The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping seems to be making some bold opening moves with its attacks on corruption and the announcement on February 5 of plans to reduce the polarization of incomes.  Does this mean Xi is leading China in new directions? ...

Conversation

02.06.13

Airpocalypse Now: China’s Tipping Point?

ALEX WANG, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in airport smoking lounges. At its worst, Beijing air quality has approached levels only seen in the United States during wildfires.All of the comparisons to London, Los Angeles, and New...

Conversation

02.01.13

China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost?

JAMES FALLOWS, DONALD CLARKE & more

James Fallows: Here are some initial reactions on the latest hacking news.We call this the “latest” news because I don’t think anyone, in China or outside, is actually surprised. In my own experience in China, which is limited compared with many of yours, I’ve seen the...

Conversation

01.30.13

China, Japan and the Islands: What Do the Tensions Mean...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & more

How did the Diaoyu, Spratly, and Paracel islands come to replace Taiwan as the main source of tension for maritime Asia? And how are we to explain the fact that China’s foreign policy toward its Asian neighbors has now morphed from such slogans as: “Keep our heads down, and...