Wandering China is pleased to release the fifth of the China8 series of interviews. China8 is where China’s perceived and presenting selves are discussed. This it hopes to achieve by looking closely at both China’s international and domestic coherence of its harmonious ascent. Ultimately, Wandering China hopes these perspectives will be helpful for anyone making sense of depending on how you see it, the fourth rise of the middle kingdom, or sixty odd years of consciousness of a new nation-state with a coherent identity emergent from a long drawn period of ideological strife.
This time, the focus is on Green China, with insights from Greenpeace – Calvin Quek brings first-hand insights as he is right in the thick of it all. In a domain where policy formation is at critical crossroads because economic progress has to continue, Calvin is a fellow overseas-born Chinese from Singapore.
China 8.1: You made your way to China to study at Peking University in 2009 after working in Singapore’s finance sector for a number of years. Can you describe what went through your mind then? What prompted the move, and how does it feel now to be in China?
I came to China first to teach at a local university, as I had free time before my original plan to do my MBA in the US. I spent 3 months at Beijing Union University and loved the experience of interacting with China’s youth and discovering Beijing. I then discovered that there was so much to do here in environmental sector and this is what led me to reconsider my decision to study in the US. China needs all the help it can get to address climate change and other environmental issues, and I have some vain hope that I could make a difference. I still feel that way now.
China 8.2: That is an interesting thought – Can you draw us a broad picture on the notion of Green China? Second, are you bullish about this?
Green China means moving towards an economic development model that takes into account environmental constraints and externalities. I think the government is cognizant that the economy cannot grow indefinitely without regard for these issues, and so we are seeing many policy moves to make corporations more accountable, reducing China’s overall over-reliance in coal as a fuel source, and implementing water quality and air pollution control measures. I think they can administratively address some of these issues, but I am less optimistic about them dealing with the biggest of them all – global warming.
China 8.3: Are there any projects we should be aware of that may not yet get light of day in mainstream media?
I think the most significant project that requires greater scrutiny is China’s massive expansion of coal power bases in the northwest China, which Greenpeace has revealed to be facing extremely significant water resource constraints. Despite all the talk about China’s renewable energy, which has been significant (China’s installed wind capacity is enough to power all of Australia), one can forget that renewable energy uptake is only 1% of the over energy portfolio. Coal power is 70%. Coal is the most carbon intensive of fuels. Coal = Global Waming.
China 8.4: Your current work on renewables and sustainable development can be described as a modal shift in incentivising practices. Reform is a big word in China, how do you see this happening?
The biggest issue in reform is how to make make big state owned enterprises more accountable to other important stakeholders such as regulatory and environmental officials. One of the biggest barriers to renewable energy uptake has been the general unwilingless of the State Grid to connect renewable energy projects to the grid. The reasons for this are complex, but general speaking, the State Grid, as a state monopoly, does not have the incentive to be transparent about its costs and financial situation to energy regulators, much less the public. In the latest 12th FYP plan for energy, the NEA has outlined policies for the State Grid to implement, regarding renewable energy uptake.
I am cautiously optimistic that they will follow through, but as long as SOEs in general retain more power than regulatory offices, then we have a situation where special interests hold swing.
China8.5: Moving aside from energy, how would you describe China’s place in the world today? That said, how do you think China sees itself as an actor on the world stage?
I think China isn’t sure of its place in the world. It has to come to terms with its past, much less the global leadership role that much of the world appears to want to throw at it. Thus, I do think that China’s place on the world stage, will be much more a symptom of global trends, rather than of how it wants to project itself. Intrinsically and traditionally, China has been an inward-looking civilization.
China8.6: As an overseas-born Chinese, how do you see China’s re-emergence as a great power – China’s peaceful rise 和平崛起 or peaceful development 和平发展? How about China threat? Which of these officially communicated narratives better describes China’s behavior in dealing with other countries? Alternatively, do you think there another way of looking at this?
I think any large country that is rising rapidly will undoubtedly face bumps along the way. So I don’t really the rhetoric of a “peaceful rise”. Nonetheless though, I think that a country’s economic and social political rise can be managed in a way to defuse tensions. Thus maintaing healthy US-Sino relationships are essential maintaining global and stability. As for foreign tit for tats such as the Diaoyu incident, I think that is all politiking. But I could be wrong.
China8.7: Having experienced networked societies living in Singapore and the US, what in your mind is the role of the Internet in China? Force for open-ness and democratization or…? That said, what are your thoughts on the Great Firewall of China?
Definitely a force of openness. Weibo has been important part of the social media space where people can air grievances and politicians can gauge public opinion. As for the Great Firewall of China, I don’t like it, but such is the reality.
China 8.8: Any parting words?
Don’t believe all your read. Come to China and see for yourself