March 09, 2011

China’s Natural Security for the Next Five Years

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao delivered a speech on China’s
five year plan at the Eleventh Party Congress on Saturday. (The Wall Street Journal provided a
transcript here
.) His remarks covered the gamut of state policy issues, but
natural security challenges played a prominent role throughout. Since China plays
a vital role in the topics we address on this blog, Premier Wen’s remarks are
worth recounting at length.


Wen’s speech linked China’s economic growth and energy
policies to environmental issues like climate change. This emphasis
on climate change and environmentally friendly policies
was one of the more
noteworthy parts of the new five year plan, with Wen boldly pledging to
“actively respond to climate change.” It seems that dealing with climate change
is now seen by the Party leadership as an important element for sustaining economic
growth. In fact, in a February 27, 2011 webinar, Wen told citizens that rapid
economic growth would not come at the expense of the environment, according
to Xinhua News.
 At times, Wen’s speech implied that dealing with
environmental issues was also important for social stability. This was
particularly true with regard to pollution. On pollution, Premier Wen said that
Beijing would address marine, water, air and heavy metal pollution. Wen also
pledged to “carry out major ecological restoration projects, intensify the
protection and management of major functional ecological zones…. [and] protect
natural forest resources.”


Energy continues to be an important issue for the Chinese
government. Maintaining adequate energy supplies is crucial for sustaining economic
growth at the level the Party believes is vital for its political survival. The
major theme from Wen’s speech was the need to utilize energy more
efficiently.  In this vein, he promised
to “actively promote changes in the way energy is produced and used, to raise
energy efficiency.” Perhaps with an eye towards 2012, when Wen
and Hu will hand over power
, Premier Wen’s speech established very precise
energy goals. Still, in the next five years, according to Wen, 11.4 percent of
primary energy consumption should come from non-fossil fuels, which will help
curb energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16 percent and CO2 emissions per
unit of GDP by 17 percent. Just yesterday, a spokesman for the National
Development and Reform Commission told
Xinhua News that in 2011 both
energy and carbon emissions per unit of GDP would be cut 3.5 percent from their
2010 totals

Food Security

Food security was also a subject that Premier Wen discussed
at length. “We will make safeguarding food security our primary goal,” Wen told
delegates at the National People’s Congress. He then announced that provincial
governors would be responsible for ensuring adequate amounts of grain, while
city mayors would be in charge of the “vegetable basket,” or non-grain food
supplies. To help ensure the supply of the vegetable basket, Wen announced the
“green channels” program, which will allow trucks carrying vegetables free
passage on toll roads.

Wen’s attention to food security comes in the wake of higher
food prices – which
some have suggested contributed, at least in part
, to the unrest sweeping across
the Arab world – as well as widespread  drought in China that threatens to undermine agricultural
production. But perhaps Wen’s attention to food security is also part of the
more populist image the Hu and Wen administration have
been cultivating for some time

In contrast to their
predecessors’ “growth at any cost” approach to economic development, the
current administration has tried to spread economic benefits to larger portions
of the Chinese populace, a policy often referred to as the “Scientific
Development Concept.”

Building on the last five year plan
this iteration suggests that the CCP is committed to
sustainable development. With other countries in the region also becoming
increasingly attentive to issues such as climate change, energy and food
security, the United States has an opportunity to engage China and the rest of
the region to craft regional solutions to these common challenges.