I have no illusions about China's political system and its effect on freedom of the press, but no one can deny that the unofficial media in China have developed substantially over the last two decades, and this has been followed by the growth of the Internet and non-traditional media sources.
An initiator of this trend has been Hu Shuli. She broke through with Caijing Magazine from 1998 to 2008. But she left Caijing to form a new company, Caixin Media, which has expanded well beyond a weekly magazine. Caixin is now a brand applied across a wide range of information products, from periodicals to video programming to conferences.
Given Caixin's role in China, it was an amazing honor to be invited to speak at this year's summit, whose theme was "China and the World: Strategizing Sustainable Growth." I spoke on the panel on “Green Modernization – the Next 10 Years,” together with representatives from Rio Tinto, Citibank, and a local private equity company. I stressed that going green will require going beyond government-mandated standards. Green certification programs for products and construction, well developed in the United States, are just in their infancy in China, but hold a great deal of promise in reducing energy usage and increasing efficiency, all the while contributing to economic growth.
I also suggested that Chinese consumers use their market power to push domestic and foreign product suppliers to raise the environmental protection standards of their goods. A “China effect” could be just as positive in promoting green modernization as the well-known “California effect." As an example, I said that China shouldn't criticize the EU's new airline carbon trading scheme, which many have said is too costly and a trading barrier; instead, China should not only embrace it but issue their own higher standards. I think most folks in the audience were sympathetic to these kinds of suggestions, but one person interpreted my comment as a defense of European protectionism and went on a rant for several minutes. I actually would've been happy to engage her, but the moderator shifted to other questioners.
In suggesting that Chinese need to go beyond their government to promote green modernization, I provided data about the relatively low level of government transparency in providing information about the state of the environment and government policies.The Natural Resources Defense Council and a Chinese partner organization developed a Pollution Information Transparency Index based on 2009 data. They found wide variation across Chinese cities; the most transparent city was Ningbo, in Zhejiang; the least transparent was Xining, in western China. Peter Lorentzen of UC-Berkeley and Pierre Landry of the University of Pittsburgh took the data one step further to examine the reasons for these differences. The answer: cities in strong fiscal positions have the resources to collect environmental data, and cities that do not have a dominant company have the political will to release this information. Here is a look at the Top Ten and Bottom Ten and the related data. I'm grateful to Peter and Pierre for letting me use this information in my presentation.
The most interesting speaker on my panel was from Rio Tinto. He gave a detailed description of how this huge mining company attempts to be as efficient as possible and support reductions in energy usage for itself and its customers.
Beyond our panel there was a ton of interesting speakers and comments. Liu Mingkang, who just stepped down as head of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, described in detail how the CBRC has tried to monitor and control the negative consequencese of expanding local government debt. Economist Wu Jinglian spoke quite forthrightly about his hope that the new leadership line-up next year will usher in a new wave of economic reforms that liberalize China's markets and create a greater likelihood the economy will be more efficient and balanced in the years ahead.
All in all, a total blast!