China is choking; thick smog has engulfed major cities on the country’s eastern coast including Beijing since 11 January 2013 and it looks unlikely to clear up soon. The US Embassy in Beijing operates an Air Quality Index (AQI) based on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards in major Chinese cities. On 12 January, Beijing’s reading on the AQI was above 700 for the particle PM 2.5 during the major part of the day.1 PM 2.5 is the smallest but most dangerous particle for respiratory health. The city authorities have issued an advisory for people to stay indoors as a precaution. Beijing’s smog, while recurrent, has been at its worst this winter and is an example of what is wrong with China’s political economy. China’s unending pursuit of the mythical comprehensive national power is fraught with many inherent contradictions. While environmental challenges like the unprecedented smog are the most dramatic as well as serious manifestations of these contradictions, there are other issues such as a floating population, suppressed wages and land monopoly that are equally pertinent but less visible to an outsider. While it is difficult to narrow down the causes of China’s environmental challenges, a few significant ones can be identified.
Unequal Natural Distribution