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Root out haze and push forward reforms

Updated: 2014-03-06 09:25
By Wang Daili (

The first item to be ticked every morning during my short stay in Beijing a few months ago was to activate the AQI (air quality index) app, praying the particulate matter 2.5 will stay at a fairly acceptable level. Disappointingly, it never happened. Haze, smoke dust or mist that is hardly visible in the air, was picked out as the key word of 2013 by some from the most prominent media. Critics conjecture that the poor air quality is to blame for the flood of new emigrants leaving China. At any event, topics pertinent to PM2.5 prove to be an effective way to break the ice.

The authority has been working with due diligence in addressing the public appeal and fighting the exacerbating air condition. At the opening of the 2014 annual meeting of parliament, the so-called two sessions, Premier Li Keqiang gave an excellent speech and declared “a war against pollution,” much like the “war against poverty”. Tons of research has been conducted to explore the origin of haze: fueling coal, running cars or carelessness in dealing with industrial pollution. Legislation has been introduced to regulate purchasing vehicles and charge those bringing autos to downtown areas during peak hours. In many respects, one could sense a strong desire by the authority to make a change in attenuating the hazardous air condition.

The battle against pollution is a well-structured microcosm of an ambitious reform agenda. At first glance, emergence of a country-wide haze attack serves as convincing evidence that the existing investment-reliant growth model is no longer sustainable. The country needs to identify and transform into a balanced and environment-friendly development track. To achieve the goal, an indispensable step is to break the current borders in social constructs. In the previous decades, China has enjoyed rapid yet stable growth in most areas. The “great moderation period,” a phrase coined by the well-known economist Hyman Minsky, leads to social stability that the authority is keen on. However, it nurtures risks as well. To avoid the sudden materialization of an unpleasant economic fluctuation, reforms are indeed the must-do option.

It might or might not be coincidence that the air quality these days, upon the commencement of the two sessions, stays at a pleasant moderate level. I sincerely wish this is a propitious moment for not only rooting out the haze, but also the launch of reforms.

The author is Ph.D Candidate at China Center for Economic Research, Peking University.