According to a report in Tuesday's edition of the Financial Times, the Chinese government put pressure on the World Bank to take potentially damaging statistics out of a report on pollution in China.The FT editorial huffs and puffs if I may use that expression without punning.
Among the alleged cuts made were the report's finding that around 750,000 people in China are dying prematurely every year due to high levels of air pollution and poor water quality. Another deletion was a particularly damning map of China showing which parts of the country suffered from the most pollution-related deaths.
Even in a China that is more capitalist than ever, the instinctive official response to bad news is to suppress it with all the force available to the nominally communist state. Beijing needs to accept that in 2007 this kind of reaction is as futile and dangerous as it was in 2003, when the authorities kept secret the spread of the deadly Sars virus. It is futile because the truth will out and dangerous because secrecy delays the necessary remedial action.Futile and dangeours for whom? It seems that the World Bank happily (or, perhaps, not so happily) acquiesces in this sort of behaviour and accepts the Chinese government’s argument that this sort of information might cause social unrest in the country.
The alternative of publishing the truth in the expectation that fear of social unrest might encourage the authorities to tackle the problems clearly did not occur to any of those hightly paid officials.
Next time you see criticism of the United States as the Great Polluter, especially from the World Bank, remember the Chinese figures they agreed to blank out.