CCTV exposé on Sinopec hints at changing times

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 1:50am

Those believing that the mainland continues to be governed by a growth-at-all-costs mantra need only turn to a China Central Television broadcast to see that times are changing. In it, national and Guangdong environmental inspectors berate the all-powerful state-owned petrochemical giant Sinopec for allegedly repeated health and safety violations at three subsidiaries in the province. Such an outburst in so public a forum is rare, and why it was resorted to can only be guessed at. But it was effective. The two refineries and a petrochemical plant that were criticised were ordered closed for environmental checks. Sinopec promised that if the claims are found to be true, the managers responsible will be punished.

Such circumstances would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Sinopec is Asia's largest refiner and ranked number five on Fortune magazine's list of the world's 500 biggest enterprises. With its chairman a deputy minister in the central government and the firm a key employer and driver of growth, it has become so powerful and influential that many consider it unchallengeable. Local officials have certainly found that to be true. They have no authority over its decisions.

It is a situation that has increasingly been at loggerheads with the rights of Chinese, especially those in the middle classes. With wealth comes aspirations, and high on that list has been a clean and healthy environment. Pollution-spewing refineries and factories have been the target of protests, and while some plants have been forced to modify operations or close, most have been handed only rudimentary fines by environmental watchdogs that lack the teeth to be effective. Unsurprisingly, authorities are under pressure to not always put the economy ahead of all else.

The sight of officials standing up to a monolith like Sinopec is inspiring. CCTV has to be applauded for airing their grievances. Such a stand is necessary for the nation to develop sustainably with the interests of citizens being equitably balanced beside the need for economic growth.