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Linking Prosperity to Environmental Harmony

At a Wednesday symposium on population, resources and environment attended by cabinet ministers and provincial governors, President Hu Jintao reiterated the new leadership's commitment to a "scientific perspective of development."

Showing a break from overwhelming emphasis on gross domestic product growth, Hu and his colleagues declared their ideal pattern of development should be "comprehensive," "coordinated" and "sustainable."

Such a perspective requires simultaneous attention to the correlations between and among population, resources and environment, according to Hu.

That sounds obvious, but it has not come without a price. The country has paid dearly to learn that lesson.

In the early years of the People's Republic, believing that more people translated into more power, the world's most populous country overlooked its capacity to feed the masses.

The concept of family planning did not take shape until the pressure of food reminded us that more people also means more mouths to feed.

China then launched its programs of earth-shaking reform and opening up in the face of a collective desire for ever improving lives.

For a long time we took for granted that a constantly growing domestic product is the best gauge and guarantee of progress.

As a result of that superstition, many local government leaders were willing to do whatever it took to boost local GDP figures.

Large numbers not only look good, they are also crucial considerations of higher authorities when it comes to appraising local leadership's performance.

The persistent thirst for larger and larger GDP figures effectively sidelined warnings of subsequent environmental damage.

We finally became aware - after we found ourselves breathing foul air, drinking polluted water, and living in an environment that was almost irreparably damaged in some areas.

The new national leadership's decision to reshuffle our development strategies is a sign that we have finally come to terms with the dialectics of development. The change in philosophy of progress, featuring a conspicuous appreciation of balance between economic and non-economic concerns, is a declaration that we are not pursuing prosperity for prosperity's sake.

In the words of Hu and his colleagues, their core concern is not only to develop the economy, but to enable all citizens to benefit.

The new thinking distinguishes itself not only because of its "people first" approach; it at the same time demonstrates a fresh understanding of the relationship between humans and nature.

The proposal to economize on resources and care more about ecological consequences of production is a timely reminder that we can no longer afford to continue on the old path.

The latest public discourse about "green GDP" gives the impression that society is seriously rethinking our way of development.

Our progress can only be more respectable and enjoyable when it comes with appreciation for the harmony between population, resources and environment.

(China Daily March 12, 2004)

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