China Power

America’s ‘Outsourced Pollution’ Comes Back ‘To Haunt Us’

Plus, Xu Zhiyong and Liu Yuandong on trial, regulating internet TV, and China’s State Security Committee. Friday China links.

Shannon Tiezzi
America’s ‘Outsourced Pollution’ Comes Back ‘To Haunt Us’
Credit: Flickr/ Ian Barbour

A paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences wrote that the United States’ West Coast is being affected by the high levels of air pollution in China. For example, the report, which was authored by both Chinese and American scientists, claims that each year, Los Angeles experienced at least one extra day “of noncompliance with the U.S. ozone standard” because of pollutants originating in China. Even more concerning, the data included in the study was from 2000-2009, meaning that recent historic highs in China’s air pollution were not included. In addition to the U.S., China’s nearer neighbors, including Japan and South Korea, also suffer ill effects from China’s smog, as the New York Times and South China Morning Post reported last year.

However, the study also points out that a significant amount of Chinese air pollution can be tied to factories that create products for export to the United States and other developed nations, especially in Europe. Co-author Steve Davis, from the University of California at Irvine, told the Washington Post, the U.S. has “outsourced our manufacturing and much of our pollution, but some of it is blowing back across the Pacific to haunt us.” According to the report, the loss of factories in the U.S. has contributed to cleaner air over American soil — but the pollution created by manufacturing has simply been moved elsewhere (in this case, to China), rather than be eliminated.

In other news, New Citizens Movement leader Xu Zhiyong went on trial this week for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order.” As Tyler Roney wrote in more detail for The Diplomat, the trial has caused criticism from both domestic and foreign human rights advocates. Xu was a vocal proponent of asset disclosure for Chinese officials, and many see his trial as a kangaroo court designed to silence his critiques. U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke released a statement Thursday, saying he was “deeply concerned” that the trials of Xu and other activists were “retribution for their public campaigns to expose official corruption.” Locke also expressed his concern “that the police mistreated foreign journalists who were covering the Xu Zhiyong trial.” The Guardian, citing Xu’s lawyer Zhang Qingfeng, reports that Xu’s sentencing will happen on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the trial of another activist, Liu Yuandong, began on Friday. Like Xu, Liu is also accused of gathering crowds to disrupt public order — in Liu’s case, a reference to the anti-censorship protests that took place last year outside the Southern Weekly office. The BBC notes that security around Liu’s trial was as tight as it was around Xu’s. The wave of current trials is suspected to be an attempt to clear out potentially controversial cases before the National People’s Congress convenes in March.

Speaking of censorship, Caixin reports that China’s media regulators may begin cracking down on internet protocol television (IPTV). A recent boom in the industry, with Tencent Holdings, Alibaba Group, and Baidu Inc all releasing IPTV products in 2013, has the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television worried. Most IPTV products have bypassed the licensing requirements, meaning consumers can stream unregulated content (including foreign shows). Citing “a source close to regulators,” Caixin writes that new restrictions will be announced in early February.

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Finally, Xinhua reports that Xi Jinping (as expected) has officially been named the head of China’s new national security commission. Premier Li Keqiang and Zhang Dejiang will serve as deputy heads. The establishment of the State Security Committee was announced at the Third Plenum back in November 2013, and was seen as an important step in streamlining control of all aspects of China’s security apparatus: domestic and foreign, civilian and military. The latest document on the new committee, issued after a Politburo meeting, says the body will be responsible for “making overall plans and coordinating major issues and major work concerning national security.” Stay tuned, along with The Diplomat, to see exactly what this translates to in terms of practical action.