Monday, 9 December 2013

China's greatest challenge- pollution?

Is China taking a great leap backwards- environmental hazards

Walking along the Bund in Shanghai in early December in 2013- the Bund is the beautiful waterfront separating the old city from the new city- one could hardly discern the museum of tall skyscrapers on the other side of the river. The boats on the river were like moving shadows. All this because a mist, a haze, polluted clouds enwrapped this beautiful city. The local authorities banned all out door sport for children because the air quality was toxic. Neighbouring schools were closed and traffic flows limited.

The great challenge facing China and its people is the poisoning of its air and people- all in the name of progress and development! Authorities now admit of cancer villages surrounding many industrial sites in China. Chinese friends speak of the growing levels of cancer amongst their family and neighbours. International students going to Beijing and other large cities and academic institutions are less because of toxic air but also poor water quality and food. Baby food and formula is the most requested gift sought by parents in China from visitors coming from abroad. All travellers from Hong Kong to mainland China get a a warning across the intercom that only 2 packets of baby formula and powdered baby food is allowed. If one is caught taking more one is liable to a fine of 500,000 HK Dollars. This means there is panic amongst parents about the health of their children in mainland China.

Some estimates put the polluted water ways in China as high as 40%. When this water is used for irrigation the food chain is corrupted. Recent research and reports write of over 1 million premature deaths in China per year related to air pollution.
Hong Kong newspapers reported in late November that the relatively new USA Ambassador based in Beijing wanted to give up his post and return to the USA seemingly, for family educational reasons but the real reason suggested was that Beijing was an unhealthy place to live given the level of pollution in the city. Unfortunately, 1.3 billion people cannot move and have to breathe this polluted air. Those who can afford medical masks wear them diligently. One can even buy a can of fresh air in some areas in China!

The controversial Catholic Shanghai Bishop Jin Luxian died in April 2013. In his last interviews he spoke of his heartfelt wishes for his Diocese and people 1. The Shanghai Diocese would become a Diocese that cares for the poor 2. He hoped that Shanghai authoritiesand society would stop and reflect on the development orientations of the city. He believed livelihoods and the quality of life of the people neededspecial attention. He warned against falling into the trap of money worship, and he believed neglect of the quality of life and damage to the environment were key challenges for his people and Government. His words are indeed prophetic given the poor quality of health suffered by many people because of air pollution in many parts of China today.

The Chinese Government and people can learn useful lessons from the West in relation to their struggles over the years in dealing with similar problems and the present economic crisis. However, the most notable lesson it can learn is how unregulated development - doing business without ethics- progress without consideration for the whole person-greed for money can affect the livelihoods of millions and impact negatively generations of peoples

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Following the Ricci trail

Following the Ricci trail

Macau has been the gateway of many explorers into China. It was the first port of call for the great ITALIAN JESUIT MISSIONARY Matteo Ricci. He built the bridge of understanding of Chinese culture and relations in China which has remained an example to all missionary endeavour to the present. His set of rules were befriend the people, learn the language, understand the culture, appreciate and appropriate the values of that culture which are consonant with the Gospel and enter into dialogue with the peoples and learn from them. Work on how one can immerse the Gospel into the culture and vice versa and never impose it.
Macau continues to be a bridge into China and amidst the plenitude of casinos and churches and it remains a melting pot of many cultures and a place where West meets East.

The inspiration of Ricci inspired many Jesuits to give their lives to China and in spite of the expulsion of foreigners under the Mao regime Chinese religious leaders and Chinese lay men and women catholics continue through their heroic commitment to give witness to freedom and to the dignity of the human person in spite of Government spying, harassment, intimidation going on in many places within China. One is bemused at times what the Chinese Government and Party organs are afraid of from Catholics and the Catholic Church. One wonders if the party is more afraid of a free internet or the Catholic Church within China? The present accomodation strategy adopted by some Western Governments to appease the Chinese Government is a source of sadness to many ordinary Chinese people who hunger for the freedom to assemble, express themselves, worship freely and have an unblocked internet. The placing of the Shanghai Catholic Bishop under virutal house arrest and the retention of the passsports of a number of religious leaders , thus curbing their feedom to travel abroad is to be abhorred. The international community and its leaders must continue to raise human rights issues with the Chinese Government. Remaining silent does a disservice to those who are voiceless within Chinese borders. International leaders who visit just to do business or just charm the Chinese leaders can never supersede issues of human rights,dignity, respect for cultural identity, freedom to travel and expression and right of assembly within China. The deprivation of such rights affects the lives of millions of Chinese in 2013. Money and good economic relationships with China must not be allowed to take priority over the promotion of human dignity and human rights within this grest country. It must however, be also acknowledged that China has travelled a long way to freedom from the oppressive days of the Mao regime and the outcome of the ‘third plenum’ published in November,2013- this is the Government policy document for the next number of years- indicates that the struggle to give more space to progressive elements within the party,Government and people is bearing results – the abolition of labour camps and re-education internments seems to be strong indicators that China under the present leadership is on the way to join the international in community in acknowledging basic freedoms. One hopes that the blueprint for reform emerging from the present leaders will bloom and grow.