on Friday approved the resignation of Xie Zhenhua, director of the
State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA
), following a
chemical spill that has seriously polluted the country's
northeastern Songhua River.
"Xie submitted a resignation request to the Communist Party of
Central Committee and the State Council. The request has been
approved," said a joint circular from the general offices of the
CPC Central Committee and the State Council, the Chinese
Xie has become the highest-ranking official to be removed from
office for an environmental incident, as the Chinese authorities
are increasingly aware of the danger of seeking economic
development at the cost of environment, as well as the importance
of boosting government accountability.
The State Council said in a separate announcement that it has
appointed Zhou Shengxian, former director of the State Forestry
Administration, as Xie's replacement.
"After this major water pollution incident (in the Songhua
River) occurred, the SEPA has failed to pay sufficient attention to
the incident and has underestimated its possible serious impact,"
said the joint circular.
"It should bear due responsibility for the losses caused by this
incident," the circular added.
Around 100 tons of pollutants containing hazardous benzene spilled
into the Songhua River after a chemical plant explosion on Nov. 13
in northeast China's Jilin Province. The incident has forced cities
along the river, including Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province
and a city of more than three million people, to temporarily
suspend water supply.
As the pollutants are also expected to flow into a major border
river between China and Russia, diplomatic efforts and
environmental cooperation are now underway to minimize the impact
of trans-border pollution.
The central authorities' joint circular on Friday ordered
relevant departments to step up investigation into causes of the
explosion and pollution incidents, and vowed to "seriously punish
Jiang Chengsong, a member of the Environmental and Resources
Protection Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top
legislature, said the quick replacement of the environmental chief
after the Songhua River pollution incident also shows the
improvement of China's political system.
"It indicates that the country's official accountability system
has become more mature," he said.
China activated the official accountability system during the SARS
(severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis in 2003. More than1,000
officials, including then Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and Beijing
Mayor Meng Xuenong, were ousted for their attempts to cover up the
epidemic situation or incompetence in SARS prevention and
The system was later introduced to all levels of the government,
and more officials lost their jobs for major accidents or other
administrative mistakes. In April 2004, General Manager of the
China National Petroleum Corporation Ma Fucai, also a
minister-level official, resigned over a major oil well blowout
accident in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.
Born in 1949, Xie is a native of Tianjin. He became chief of the
SEPA in 1993 after nearly two decades of service in it.
(Xinhua News Agency December 3, 2005)