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Chinese officials in Guizhou told to fight pollution or forget about promotion

Ruling Communist Party tells cadres to look after the environment or face failure in their appraisals

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

Cadres in Guizhou will be assessed on their environmental work before they can be promoted to key positions, as the southwest province ramps up the pressure on officials to meet green targets.

This will be done in consultation with environmental protection departments, and work in this area will also be a more important part of officials’ performance appraisals, Xinhua reported.

Local cadres will be held responsible for the environment, and if an incident takes place on their watch they will fail their appraisal, the report said.

Something’s in the air as environment becomes new battleground for China’s cadres

Guizhou is the latest province to pressure its local officials to join the pollution fight.

In the past, cadres who failed to take action on pollution problems were not held accountable, but recent reforms to empower environment departments have already seen significant changes, according to Hu Xingdou, an economist in Beijing.

“Environmental protection departments couldn’t do much beyond fining certain companies, and they were toothless tigers when it came to the local officials,” Hu said. “But this move to consult the departments on officials’ appraisals will be much more binding.”

The ruling Communist Party’s efforts to clean up the country’s notoriously polluted air, rivers, lakes and soil have been stymied by its cadres, whose career prospects have for decades depended on their ability to drive economic growth.

But with environmental protection now a priority for the coming five years, Beijing is trying to change the mindset of putting growth first by judging its officials by a new measure – green targets.

Environmental protection has become one of President Xi Jinping’s signature campaigns. During his 3½-hour speech at the party congress in October, Xi mentioned “environment” and “ecological civilisation” more than 40 times, but there was no mention of gross domestic product growth targets.

China announced earlier this year it would send out more than 100 environmental inspection teams to more than two dozen cities around Beijing as part of a campaign to tackle the smog problem plaguing its northern region.

Meanwhile, a recent book published by the official Central Party Literature Press revealed that Xi had issued written orders on a handful of specific sites where pollution is a problem, underlining his determination to tackle the problem.

China to start making polluters pay to clean up their mess

Beijing has set a three-year target to clean up the country’s polluted air with measures including economic reforms and an energy-saving campaign, according to a statement released on Wednesday after the annual economic work conference.

But Guizhou’s lead on the pollution battle might not be feasible in other provinces, Hu said.

“Guizhou has certain advantages in environment protection and it shouldn’t follow the same path as the coastal provinces, where heavily polluting industries have developed,” Hu said. “But if bold environment protection measures are applied to the eastern provinces, I’m afraid many companies will be forced to close down.”

Guizhou is a mountainous, landlocked province that has been plagued by poverty for decades. It has been trying to lure more big-data projects since 2013, drawing investment from tech giants including Alibaba and Apple.

Chinese companies fined US$154 million for environmental offences