China urgently needs emancipated thinking to survive
“It has no strategic significance in the overall China energy plan, nor prominent economic gains in terms of investment return (with cost per kilowatt 3.6 greater than four nearby hydropower stations). It can generate limited power and has better alternatives … In short Chongqing’s construction of the Xiaonanhai hydropower station on the Yangtze River will be enormously expensive and will do more harm than good socially, economically and environmentally."
In the face of such strong questioning and opposition from the communities, experts and NGOs, advance work on the Xiaonanhai project was nonetheless launched two weeks ago. How is it that this project is being driven through all reasonable objections and legal constraints?
From the perspective of political performance analysis, Xiaonanhai’s total investment will be RMB37 billion (USD5.9 billion). Last year Chongqing’s total GDP was nearly RMB one trillion (USD158.6 billion) and this year’s national GDP growth target is 7.5 percent so Chongqing incremental target this year is RMB75 billion (USD11.9 billion). So a single project like Xiaonanhai hydropower accounts for almost 50 percent of Chongqing’s annual GDP growth target. For people seeking to drive up their personal scoreboards, this is too great a temptation to reject!
Under the current system, it is difficult to hold the decision makers accountable for this kind of "growth". Those in power usually hold their positions for a five-year term so the cost and consequences of their decisions can be easily ducked, leaving the mess for their successors to deal with and ecological costs to be borne by future generations.
Where there is no individual responsibility then the accountability process becomes a meaningless formality. The corollary is that there is no incentive to go against the flow; there is almost no cost to breaking environmental rules, while striving to protect the environment may result in losing tangible political benefits and other interests.
Unless we have a systematic mechanism that can guard against the arbitrary “rule by man”, the Xiaonanhai fishery protection area will be in crisis, if not today, then tomorrow.
Putting this systematic mechanism in place requires the country’s mind-set to be emancipated again. This will enable us to get to the root of the problem and determine the right concept of development to address current conditions, reconciled with nature and humanity as a whole.
Economic growth does not equal development; it is only one form of development. For a country that is facing the limit of growth, deciding where to go and what to do is far more urgent than just steaming forward regardless what lies ahead.