China bashers turn blind eye to progress

By Patrick Whiteley (China Daily)
2008-04-07 07:07
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China bashers turn blind eye to progress

"The sky is falling," cried Chicken Little. Flustered critics of Beijing's Olympic preparations are echoing the same nonsensical alarm. Doomsayers were recently huffing about the Beijing dirty sky issue and claimed the air quality in August would not be fit enough for athletes. These worry warts are jumping at shadows and are in for a clear-sky surprise come opening ceremony.

I'm not saying Beijing is perfect. Far from it. Some Beijing days are downright ugly. Smog can blanket the city, thanks to the millions of cars pumping their toxins into the air, and there is factory smoke adding to the problem.

But Beijing's pollution woes are being addressed and pale into insignificance when compared to London's Great Smog of 1952. More than 12,000 died as a result of the five-day catastrophe. The city's undertakers ran out coffins. Ten years later, London suffered another "Big Smoke" and scores more people died, forcing the British government to pass the clean air act.

China is also wrestling its pollution demons. Ten years ago there were only 100 Beijing clear sky days a year. Since then, foreign media reports often featured dirty China sky pictures. "China is choking on its success," the headlines would say, often in the big London newspapers.

But what people around the world may not realize, because it is not widely reported, is the improvement to the environment.

Last year authorities claim about 250 clear days and are aiming for 300 clean days this year, thanks to a $17 billion program.

Today there is a lot more confidence in the air than pollution.

Young Games volunteer, Han Yue, was upbeat about the future. "When Chinese people get together and work as one, we can achieve great things," he told me.

But it's hard to break a decade of stereotyping and many people in the world still have outdated images of China. An American work colleague Todd was recently asked by his young cousin to send her a "polluted sky" picture of Beijing. It was for her high school assignment on China. Todd couldn't help her out. "The weather is actually been pretty good," he replied.

But don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. A few weeks ago Beijing was hit by its annual sand storm, which occurs after northern China thaws from winter. More than 1 million tonnes of Gobi desert sand flies into the capital. That's 50,000 dump trucks.

This seasonal cause was not mentioned when the hazy-sky pictures were attached to stories about the Games pollution scare.

"We know there are problems," Han told me. "But I'm looking forward to the Games so people around the world can see how much we have done and how much better China is becoming."

China haters, motivated by a myriad of personal issues, are turning a blind eye to positive progress.

Like Chicken Little, Foxy Loxy and Goosey Loosey, they are living in a fairytale.

(China Daily 04/07/2008 page10)