ìChinese Newspapers Put Spotlight on Polluters: Factory Shutdowns Follow Reports,î by Edward Cody, Washington Post, 25 May, p. A10.
Environmentalists love to extrapolate long-term nightmares from todayís short-term data almost as much as Pentagon long-range planners. China is clearly polluting its environment at an unsustainable rate, butóby definitionóthat rate will not be sustained as it develops its economy. Why? Costs too much in efficiency, plus history shows that as a society reaches a certain GDP/per capita level, citizens begin to value the environment differently (as in more, trading off cleaner air and water against additional increments of income growth). Key to this process is the rise of a free(r) press and a legal system that encourages civil suits for damages. The latter is already appearing in China (class-action lawsuits); this article cites a growing role for the press.
Is this a truly free press? Not by far. Is it freer on certain issues (like the environment and economic corruption) while weaker on others (labor rights and political corruption)? Yes. And is it, in an overall sense, freer than it was a decade ago? Yes.
Focusing on the direction of change instead of strictly on the degree helps us see the half-full glass on China in many spheres.