China’s national security laws getting in the way of development?

China went headlong into globalization after Deng Xiaoping’s speech in 1978, and has been one of the major builders and beneficiaries of globalization since that time.  However, there is a somewhat strange relic of the old, paranoid approach to the world that is risking unravelling all that progress that China has made along those lines.

National secrets about natural resources.

Basically, now that Stern Hu, Rio Tinto’s lead China businessperson, has been arrested (with the support of President Hu Jintao), the world is starting to realise that China has some pretty scary national security laws that are not only getting people arrested, are indeed holding up Chinese development.  In this case,

Mr Hu, who was in charge of Rio Tinto’s iron ore sales to China, was arrested a week ago. Days later the Chinese Government issued a statement saying he and his colleagues had “caused huge loss to China’s national economic security and interests”, and “have already broken Chinese law and have violated international business ethics”.

Chinese Government sources say the investigation of Mr Hu began before Rio Tinto broke off its $US19.5 billion ($A25 billion) investment deal with Chinalco and joined iron ore production forces with BHP Billiton on June 5.

The government says that it’s not revenge for Rio Tinto’s Chinalco snub, but we’ll never really know the truth about that.  The coincidence, however, is very convincing.

What’s the best way to avoid messy problems like this?  Why not open up the natural resource sector from secrecy?  By closing information off, it might seem to China that it can maintain some sort of advantage over international predators.  Yet, by maintaining secrecy, (a) foreign countries and companies simply don’t want to cooperate with China because it is difficult to trust (let’s say this is the Rio Tinto/BHB rationale for not working with Chinalco); or, (b) as China would suggest in their arrest of Mr. Hu, that people will find out about China’s resources anyway through espionage or other illegal means.

By opening up information about resources, China will be able to rationalize its resource use through the use of regulation and licensing, rather than ham-fisted avoidance.  Instead of controlling prices and markets through promoting absence of information, the government could control market through a rationalized approach where all players know what is available, and know what they are competing for.  As we’ve seen in the auto industry, foreign companies can play well in China, to the benefit of China.

By promoting secrecy about resources, China is losing out on opportunities to gain partnerships and thus management experience and technology transfer in the global economy.

Blogspot blocked in China

Well, now I don’t feel nearly so lonely out here in blogland — it seems that any website on blogspot.com has been blocked in China.

This blockage is causing huge problems for bloggers inside China – particularly some of the best blogs on the environment such as , which is blogspot based. Not only is it difficult to post, but it is virtually impossible to have any Chinese audience.

I wonder if China is just trying to keep things quiet before the anniversary later this year, or if it is a longer-term strategy to maintain that there is “free speech” in China, but keep bloggers frustrated by opening and closing access to various blogging platforms. I note that wordpress.com blogs are still easily accessible in China, while blogspot.com blogs are blocked.

It might even be a strategy to get foreigners to post on Chinese blog sites, where they might be easier controlled.

Nobody said that China was going to follow any other country’s rules. History is being written now, and we’ve all got to adapt. For me, I’m looking into a web service company that can provide consistent service inside and outside China — maybe that service provider will be in China? Well, good for Chinese economic development, right?

CCS and Biofuel tech development no April fool’s joke. China needs it, Canada should supply.

I recently read a comment on a blog by David J. Parker, whose name was linked to the Green Party website, and I see he has a blog on the Green Party site, so I assume he has some policy link to the party.

The blog post I read was by Ken Chapman on CCS in Alberta. The feeling I got from Mr. Parker’s comment is that he doesn’t support CCS development, nor biofuel development, and I would like to know if this is also the position that the Green Party takes.

I’d like to mention that I am sympathetic to the views of the Green Party, and the need to have fundamental change in the way society and governance works in order to achieve sustainability, and I can see how from a Canadian perspective, where there are lots of opportunities to live more sustainably using energy efficiency, public transit, etc. as a means to reduce GHG emissions.

However, after living in China for 4.5 years, and working in the environment and energy policy sphere here, I see that Canada (and other developed countries) is a special case in this regard. In fact, countries like China and India and other developing countries already use huge amounts of public transit in their cities, and working on energy efficiency like crazy (for the vast majority of people here, life is “low carbon”). However, they still feel that their citizens have the right to live a high-quality, modern lifestyle as we all do in Canada. And who are we to disagree?

The fact of the matter is that countries like China are increasing their dependence on fossil fuels at rates completely unimaginable in Canada. Indeed, as recently highlighted by McKinsey’s “China’s Green Revolution” report, even with a continuation of China’s current energy efficiency improvement efforts and a 4.8% annual growth rate of carbon efficiency, China’s green house gas emissions in 2030 will be more than double 2005 levels (14.5 Gt per year of CO2e in 2030 vs. 6.8 Gt per year in 2005)  (Thanks to China Environmental Law Blog for pointing that out) .

In order to accomplish economic growth, China needs to increase its energy security, and as we all know, that means development of its vast coal resources and available biofuel resources. China doesn’t trust international oil markets, and other renewable energies simply cannot keep up with its growth. Since coal is basically unavoidable in this situation, development of IGCC and CCS power generation/carbon management technologies is also unavoidable and necessary. CCS systems attached to Coal-to-Liquid (CTL) are also completely necessary as China aggressively develops this fuel chain in order to decrease its dependence on foreign oil.

The second problem is that China sees climate change as a problem created by developed countries, including Canada, and a problem that needs to be solved, in large measure, by developed countries. It is therefore insisting that technology developed in developed countries be transferred to China for free or at preferential rates.

So, we have a problem. China insists that it needs technology. Developed countries are going to send it. Does Canada want to benefit from the development of that technology or not?

The only way Canada will benefit is to encourage scientists, engineers, and industry to engage in these climate-change marginal, but completely necessary technologies, whether it is through government spending, or whatever other support government can give. The fact is that, if developed properly, these technologies are better than simply burning coal and releasing emissions into the air.

I encourage the Green Party, and all of Canada’s political parties, to take a global view to its domestic policies. Climate change is a global problem, and it cannot be solved domestically in Canada without cooperating abroad. We don’t have the population or the strength to do so. The only way we can help solve this problem is to make ourselves known, and to contribute to the development of technologies that developing countries need, whether we in Canada need them or not.

China’s recycling market losing steam – Calgary begins blue box service

I was talking on the phone with my mom last night and heard that this Friday would be the first day of  the long-awaited blue box service in Calgary.  Just in time to witness the collapse of the recycling market in China due to low commodity prices.  It’s a bit of a tragedy, as all that recyclable material might just end up in the landfill afterall…

I was wondering what was going on late last year when the price of plastic bottles decreased at my local recycling “depot.”  Before October, 2008 or so, I could always fetch 1 jiao for a 600 mL water/coke bottle.  Suddenly, I could only get 5 fen!  (1 jiao is like a Chinese dime, 5 fen is like 5 cents).  World financial crisis, he said!

What does that mean for your recycling programme in Europe or North America?  It means that as much as you dust up, and tidily sort your trash into your blue box, your municipality might not have anywhere to sell your recyclables.  After all, China makes up nearly 70% of the global recyclables market, and if they aren’t buying here, well — that means nobody is buying your junk!

Sadly, it means this junk is going to start piling up, either near your city in North America, in a landfill, or perhaps at the bottom of the sea as ships potentially dump their worthless trash overboard.

Turns out that recycling isn’t much of a solution after all, when times get tough.  North America, it’s time to clean up your act and consume more responsibly.

Chinese NGO releases letter to Chinese National People’s Congress

A quick note on the development of Chinese NGOs and their ability to voice their opinions in today’s China.

A couple of days ago,  Reuters and China Environmental Law Blog reported in English, and Sohu.com reported in Chinese (report / full-text) on a letter written by China’s largest NGO, Friends of Nature released a letter encouraging the Chinese National People’s Congress to take the environment into consideration when allocating the RMB 4 trillion that will be spent in order to get China’s economy going again.

While the content of the letter is significant, I believe that it is important for people outside of China to begin to see that domestic Chinese NGOs are starting to have a voice in the political environment here in China.  Where in the past, it was the domain of foreign NGOs such as Greenpeace or the Natural Resource Defense Council to drift into policy matters, now Chinese NGOs such as Friends of Nature, Beijing Global Village, and even my own organization, Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation, are entering the policy sphere.

Not only are these organizations being allowed in, but in fact, their voices are starting to be encouraged by government, as perhaps demonstrated in the Chinese government’s recent white paper on Climate Change (thanks to China Environmental Law Blog for translating!), where the Chinese government specifically noted they they would be working with NGOs in mitigating and adapting to Climate Change.

I look foward to discussing the activities and properties of both Canadian and Chinese NGOs in the field of energy efficiency and climate change, and will make it a theme in this blog to highlight their similiarities and possible synergies.