BIZCHINA> Review & Analysis
Black and white cats? We also need green ones
By Qin Xiaoying (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-03-10 06:07

The colour green is taking on increasing connotations of everything related to environmental friendliness and resource protection. Green issues are the focus of panel discussions at the ongoing sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

As the public's "green" awareness grows across the world, decision-makers must heed the people's calls. The ideas of "green politics," such as calling for resource and ecological conservation, are gaining credence in the decision-making process.

Interesting enough, some Chinese, on the eve of the NPC and CPPCC sessions, jokingly urged that "black and white cats be turned into green cats."

"A cat is good if it catches mice no matter whether it is black or white." The saying, cited by Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of China's reform and opening up, to push his pragmatic approach, has now become a widely known phrase.

This "cat theory" helped millions of Chinese break free from the straightjacket of the leftist mentality. This was of vital importance to shifting the country away from "class struggle" and towards economic revival.

At the same time, the phrase encouraged grass-roots leaders to seize the opportunities of economic development, which likely knocked but once, and go in for economic tasks whole-heartedly.

Many foreigners related China's reform and opening-up undertakings to the catchphrase.

Now the country's per capita GDP has reached US$1,400, which indicates that a very important transitional period is approaching. If the transition is a success, the country's modernization process will be accelerated. But if the transition goes awry, the country could fall into traps of modernization and pay dearly.

Whether we can make the best use of and protect our natural resources is one of the most important indicators in gauging the success and failure of the transition.

Many NPC deputies and members of the CPPCC National Committee, driven by their sense of crisis, are showing great concern for the protection of natural resources and the environment. Their sense of crisis may help introduce the concept of the "green cat" to enrich the "black cat-white cat" theory.

A big problem now is that many government leaders at various levels are ignorant of the "3R" concept "reduce," "re-use" and "recycle," which are important principles of a cyclic economy.

"Reduce" means reduction in the volume of materials used in production and consumption. "Re-use" refers to making secondary use of things, lengthening the service life of products. "Recycle" means turning used articles into resources again.

The process covering the production, consumption and disposal of a product is divided into three stages (upper, middle and lower streams) for analysis. People have to make Herculean efforts in each stage so that the strained supply of resources and environmental pollution can be fundamentally resolved.

Regretfully, however, environment authorities and polluting enterprises focus almost exclusively on tackling incidents of pollution and waste of materials that have already occurred, ignoring the questions of cutting the total input of materials into production, raising the utilization ratio of resources and lengthening the service life of products.

This gives rise to the phenomenon that whenever polluting materials are spotted, they are buried in landfills; whenever waste discharge is discovered, fines are meted out.

While people are preoccupied with stemming the damage in the lower stream, they forget to do any "dredging" work in the upper or middle streams.

If every enterprise tries to economize resource input and bring down costs in the "reduce" stage, improve the product quality to lengthen their service life in the "re-use" phase and further cut down on resource consumption in the "recycle" stage, the "green" principles championed by the central government will be carried out smoothly.

If environmental protection and resources saving are separated from economic development and public life, and the old habits of taking reactive measure to cope with emergencies continue, China's "green" cause will get nowhere, regardless of how much money is spent on initiatives and publicity

Worse, this old-fashioned mentality, which mistakes the finish line for the start line, will ultimately lead to the quagmire of an out-of-date industrialization mode, which runs contrary to our wishes of embarking on the road of new-type industrialization.

Only when scientific concepts of development, as advocated by the central government, are translated into scientific concepts of environmental protection and social management, can black and white cats become "green" ones, equally beautiful, and just as capable of catching mice.

The author is a researcher with the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.

(China Daily 03/10/2006 page4)

(For more biz stories, please visit Industries)