Dense, toxic smog often blankets wide areas of Beijing and other Chinese cities. Air pollution in China is a serious problem.
It is also as much Japan's problem as China's as airborne pollution reaches Japan. There is another aspect to the issue. Some 140,000 Japanese now live in China, the result of close economic ties between the two countries. Their health is also at risk.
The Chinese government must act quickly. If Japan offers to help with its superior environmental technology, both countries will benefit.
While bilateral relations are still tense over the Senkaku Islands sovereignty issue, this sort of cooperation should be actively promoted. It can be a force to propel bilateral relations forward.
China has suffered some serious air pollution for quite some time.
The main problem is PM2.5, or particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. (One micrometer is one-thousandth of a millimeter.)
As the particles are minuscule, they can be inhaled deep into the respiratory organs and cause asthma, lung cancer and other diseases.
Exhaust gases from cars and factories, heating boilers and thermal power plants are the main sources of PM2.5. Air quality tends to deteriorate markedly in winter when many heating devices are used and the air becomes stagnant.
When the air quality is particularly bad, people's daily lives are affected. For instance, schools cancel outdoor activities.
Just as Japan neglected environmental protection during its pursuit of high economic growth from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, China has done the same. Many corporations are more concerned with making profits than giving consideration to the issue, and are all-too-willing to ignore environmental regulations.
However, the public's awareness of environmental issues is changing dramatically.
The Chinese government had no intention of disclosing PM2.5 levels. When the Chinese people began to show keen interest in levels disclosed independently by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the government had no choice but to release the data.
Movements against factory construction due to environmental concerns are becoming more commonplace across China.
The Chinese government now welcomes foreign investments in energy-saving and environmentally friendly ventures, having switched from its economic growth-only policy to one that focuses more on the quality of life. The Chinese Communist Party stressed "construction of eco-civilization" in its national congress held in November.
China has much to learn from Japan's experiences in fighting environmental pollution. Although the Japanese government has discontinued most of its official development assistance (ODA) programs to China, there are many things the private sector can do.
Some local governments in Japan are beginning to call for joint Japan-China ventures to expand eco-business opportunities. Though Japan needs to protect its state-of-the-art technology, ventures such as these present huge business openings to Japanese corporations. Collaboration among universities and research institutions should also prove beneficial to both countries.
The Japanese government should draw on its ODA experiences to actively support such efforts.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 30
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