Friends of the Earth to boost China links

ENVIRONMENTAL group Friends of the Earth marks its 10th anniversary this year with a new director and a drive to improve links with China.

Mrs Mei Ng Fong Siu-mei took over this week as the group's first Chinese director, succeeding American lawyer Mr Peter Illig.

She has worked as a volunteer with the group for three years, pioneering pre-school and primary school education programmes, and has insisted on taking up her new post without pay, declining the $33,000 a month stipend.

Her appointment comes as the group prepares for its first cross-border effort, a youth exchange programme with Guangzhou, which Mrs Ng arranged in autumn last year.

Students aged 16 to 18 can write to the Director of Environmental Protection about their concerns and recommendations on the environment, and 50 winners will be invited to a summer camp on ecology in Guangzhou. A date for Guangzhou students to come to Hongkong has not been set.

The exchange is the first project of its kind for a Hongkong green group.

Mrs Ng, a Cantonese and Mandarin speaker, said it was part of an effort to broaden Friends of the Earth's focus, which so far had tended to dwell mostly on Hongkong issues and had been identified closely with expatriates.

''We want to open up to learn from others and look at environment issues from a regional perspective rather than just a Hongkong one. We affect each other and we should have more contact with each other,'' she said.

She hoped Friends of the Earth would also help booming southern China avoid some of the mistakes experienced by Hongkong during its economic development.

Lack of proper town planning or controls on land use have turned much of the New Territories into a container junk yard, which causes flooding problems and degradation of the land as rust and toxins seep into the soil.

''We need to get industrialists and land developers to really look at the environmental aspects of their projects. What we can do is highlight what happened in Hongkong without long-term planning,'' she said.

Mrs Ng also will concentrate on building links with the local community, an area which the group has fallen short on.

The Chinese membership only recently made up more than half of the group's 1,500 members.