A China Gazer’s Random Musings – No. 3

Kishan S. Rana (IFS Retd.), Emeritus Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

Environment management: the relevance of China’s experience

At the Paris Accord of 2016 and later, China has taken the high road of a responsible environment protector. Behind this pose, which burnishes its international credentials, especially after President Trump’s rejection of that accord. But it seems that within China, environment regulations are now being applied with more rigor than before, and the ‘real cost’, in terms of loss of economic momentum and impact on industrial prices, is less than estimated earlier. This is of relevance for India.

The Diplomat recently wrote: ‘In China,a major campaign against environmental violations has so far penalized more than 30,000 companies and over 5,700 officials…These changes represent a fundamental shift… We expect that the deep-seated public unease about the quality of food and water will be addressed through the advent of a more systematic approach to surveys and enforcement.’ Some environmental organizations, as NGOs, are now permitted to bring public interest lawsuits against violators of norms, again a shift for this authoritatian country.  (‘China cleans up its act on environmental enforcement’, 9 Dec 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/china-cleans-up-its-act-on-environmental-enforcement/ An article in The Economist made similar points, adding that while only 60% of steel blast furnaces are now operating, the biggest economic surprise has been ‘how muted that impact has been’; that also applies to price increases which ‘show little sign of spreading widely’. (‘Towards a greener future’, 6 Jan 2018).

This has direct relevance for India. Our environmental regulations are easily circumvented; tighter enforcement is opposed on the argument advanced by vested business interests about how this would impact on the economy. In that manner, industrial units in cities, notably Delhi, operate with impunity, and pollution worsens continually. In contrast, Beijing with a much worse pollution record is now witness to a visible lowering of PM2.5 levels, having closed shifted out wide swathes of polluting units.

India’s support for the PRC’s UN seat  

As well-known, India remained consistent in its principled position on seating the PRC at the UN, all through the 1950s, up to the 1971 UNGA, when Beijing won that right, that the PRC was the legitimate representative of China, not Chiang Kai-Shek’s rump regime in Taiwan. We may also recall that despite temptation, and persusaion by Western powers, India also did not shift its position at the UN vote, refusing to treat this as an ‘important question at the General Assembly (which would have required a two-thirds majority mandate for the PRC, not a simple majority). This was a triumph of principle over pragmatism.

In Diplomacy at the Cutting Edge (2015) I wrote of the scene in 1070-72:

Premier Zhou Enlai appeared frequently at receptions for visiting foreign leaders. It was his custom to walk down the lineup of foreign envoys, shaking hands with each, and their spouses. He was invariably alert and perceptive, and would lock gaze with each person; we used to say that the warmth of that handshake was in proportion to the bilateral political relationship of the day. The evening the news broke of People’s Republic of China’s gaining its seat in the UN, he was at an embassy national day reception. Clutching a glass of Mao Tai, he went to every table to clink glasses with each guest. At my turn, I said to him in Chinese: Congratulations on China’s success, Excellency; he responded with an expansive gesture with an arm and shoulders. Zhou has remained the most enduring of Chinese leaders, in the perception of its people.

Has Beijing ever expressed appreciation, much less gratitude for that Indian stand? Not as far as I know; perhaps someone with information on this could correct me. What I do recall is a  discussion around late 1964 or early 1965, at the Chinese Foreign Ministry when First Secretary AK Damodaran, deputy to our head of mission Jagat Mehta, called on the Deputy Director of the Asia Division. Damu alluded to India’s consistent support for the seating of the PRC at the UN, as an example of India’s principled action, despite the difficulties in bilateral relations. That Chinese official went pyrotechnic, snapping back: what India has done is no more than its duty; do not expect us to show gratitude for that. The real issue is India’s duplicitous actions on the border issue, its support to the illegal Dalai clique…etc.

Tansen Sen, author of the imprtant recent work India, China, and the World: A Connected History, wrote in an article in The Times of India that ‘Nation states have failed us: to improve relations China and India must allow their people to interact freely’. He wrote of niche groups that work in both countries, and elsewhere, to foster understanding, and tackle the large trust deficit. Among them, the Indian standpoint is well understood, for sure. See: https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/china-man/nation-states-have-failed-us-to-improve-relations-china-and-india-must-allow-their-peoples-to-interact-freely/

Indian Cancer Drugs in China

A film released in China in 2018, ‘Dying to Survive’ has had remarkable success. It is based on the true story of a Chinese businessman who 5 years back imported a generic cancer drug from India, faced a trial and was released after a pubic furor. The film made $390m in its first two weeks. It is about a leukemia patient who cheap generic drugs from India, and has struck a major chord with publics. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has called for cheaper and more accessible cancer drugs. A BBC story on the film is at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-44876528