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China's growth no threat to world
( 2003-07-19 08:57) (China Daily)

Vigilance against collateral environmental damage is crucial to sustainable growth nowadays, especially for a huge and fast-growing economy such as China's.

But jumping to the conclusion that environmental challenges alone will deflect China on its voyage to greater prosperity shows a failure to grasp the country's true situation.

Klaus Toepfer, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, claimed on Wednesday that China's ambitious plan to quadruple its year 2000 gross domestic product by 2020 is environmentally unachievable because the world does not have enough resources to accommodate another 1.3 billion Western-style consumers.

He fleshed out his argument by saying that, if China had the same number of private cars per capita as Western countries, it would have to produce 650 million vehicles.

It is a matter of fact that such an astronomical number of cars would consume more metal and oil than the world can supply and is a horrific prospect.

It is also true that the UN official's environmental concerns are well grounded and weigh heavily on the Chinese Government.

What Toepfer was driving at was perhaps the need for consumers to be more environmentally friendly in their buying habits. That is undoubtedly an important message that the Chinese people should take to heart.

However, by basing his doubt merely on a theoretical deduction, Toepfer crossed the line of prudence that is essential for an official in his position.

China's development strategy was mapped out after it summed up its own experience and examined its current conditions in the light of global conditions.

The country had successfully quadrupled its economy in about two decades by the end of last century. As China deepens its reforms and opens up more widely, it is natural that the Chinese people become increasingly confident in the new development goals.

However, while aggressively pursuing economic growth, the public have continually increased their environment awareness.

The Chinese Government has obviously come to grips with the severity of the environmental hurdles to its development ambitions.

The China Agenda 21 -- the country's white paper on population, the environment and development -- explicitly pointed out that China must take the path of sustainable development if it is to ensure its future growth.

Both developed and developing countries have to follow such a path. However, for a developing country such as China, the prerequisite for sustainable development is development in the first place.

China's rapid growth has aroused a love-hate complex in many outsiders.

Toepfer's hypothesis about 650 million vehicles serves as a case in point. The tremendous potential of the Chinese market is attracting all of the world's major car makers. On the other hand, environmentalists are watching this market explosion with concern.

Admittedly, such worries are, to a certain extent, constructive because they can act as a necessary alarm. But they should be supported by concrete evidence instead of simple if not unrealistic hypotheses.

There has been ample skepticism over China's capabilities. "Who will feed China?'' was a question asked in the 1990s and "When will China devalue its currency?'' was asked during the 1997 Southeast Asian financial crisis.

The Chinese economy has shown it is surprisingly tough. It has not only managed to feed one-fifth of humanity with less than one-tenth of the world's cultivated land but also played a stabilizing role during the regional financial turmoil of 1997.

In fact, the defining dynamic of the Chinese economy lies not in its sheer size but in its increasing efficiency, unleashed by market-oriented reforms.

The adherence to "Chinese characteristics'' by Chinese decision-makers displays their desire to pursue a development model that best suits China's own situation. There is an increasing consensus in this country that Western-style modernization is not a ready-made model for China.

The country is still on the fast track of reform and opening-up right now.

So, China's ability and resolve to press ahead with its own approach to overall development should not be underestimated.

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