Can China clean up the pollution?

The pollution in China is reaching ridiculous levels, but the government may be ready to begin a real effort to clean things up.

China’s unprecedented growth in recent years has come at a terrible price. Two-thirds of its rivers and lakes are too polluted for industrial use, let alone agriculture or drinking. Just 1 in 100 of China’s nearly 600 million city dwellers breathes air that would be considered safe in Europe. At a time when arable land is in short supply, poisoned floodwaters have ruined many productive fields. And last year, ahead of most forecasts, China passed the U.S. to become the world’s largest source of greenhouse gases.

The immensity of these troubles has produced a result that may surprise many outside China: The nation has emerged as an incubator for clean technology, vaulting to the forefront in several categories. Among all countries, China is now the largest producer of photovoltaic solar panels, thanks to such homegrown manufacturers as Suntech Power (STP). The country is the world’s second-largest market for wind turbines, gaining rapidly on the U.S. In carmaking, China’s BYD Auto has leapfrogged global giants, launching the first mass-produced hybrid that plugs into an electrical outlet. “China is a very fast follower,” said Alex Westlake, a director of investment group ClearWorld Now, at a recent conference in Beijing.

Understanding they are in a global race, China’s leaders are supporting green businesses with policies and incentives. Beijing recently hiked China’s auto mileage standards to a level the U.S. is not expected to reach until 2020. Beijing also says it will boost the country’s share of electricity created from renewable sources to 23% by 2020, from 16% today, on par with similar targets in Europe. The U.S. has no such national goal.

While most environmentalists applaud these developments, China watchers are voicing two very different sets of concerns. Some question whether China will really stand by its ambitious targets and are worried by signs of backsliding as the recession in China’s key export markets drags down economic growth. Another group, interested mainly in America’s own industrial future, fears that China’s growing dominance in certain green technologies will harm budding cleantech industries in the U.S. After all, China’s emergence comes just as the Obama Administration is trying to nurture these same types of ventures, hoping to generate millions of green jobs. Many of these U.S. businesses will have trouble holding their own against low-price competitors from China.

Beijing’s green intentions will soon be put to the test. China is in the midst of the biggest building boom in history. A McKinsey & Co. study estimates that over 350 million people—more than the U.S. population—will migrate from the countryside into cities by 2025. Five million buildings will be added, including 50,000 skyscrapers—equal to 10 New York Cities. And as quickly as new offices and houses multiply, they are filled with energy-hungry computers, TVs, air conditioners, and the like, sharply increasing demand for electricity, which comes mainly from coal-powered plants.

There are two real questions here. The first is whether China can invest in new technologies and create a clean energy industry. On that front there should be no doubt, and other countries, like the United States, who want to develop green jobs need to move swiftly in order to compete with China.

The second question, and one that affects global warming, relates to whether China can make real progress on reducing pollution within its own borders. On that question the jury is still out.

China's ambitious investment in public works

It’s much easier to spend money when you actually have it. The U.S. is sitting on a massive deficit, so we have to borrow to fund our stimulus program. China has cold, hard cash, and .

Guizhou province, in southwestern China, is a place of striking natural beauty: jagged peaks surrounded by fields of bright green rape, ridges slashed with limestone outcrops and plunging waterfalls. But these days the region’s grandest sight is man-made: the Baling River Bridge. Due to be completed early next year, this 1.4-mile (2.25 km) marvel of engineering is a jarringly conspicuous splash of 21st century technology amid Guizhou’s farms and rice fields, which haven’t changed much in thousands of years. It’s as if the Golden Gate Bridge had been dropped into some bucolic Middle-earth mountainscape.

Out of place as it may appear, this is no bridge to nowhere. Soaring a quarter-mile (400 m) above the Baling River, the $216 million span will reduce travel time considerably for the stream of trucks and cars traversing a highway that connects the provincial capital, Guiyang, with the nearest big city, Kunming, the capital of neighboring Yunnan province. Far from resenting the bridge as a white elephant, the residents of nearby Guanling, a one-stoplight town where the average income is less than $150 a year, view it as crucial to economic development and improvement in their lives. “I really cannot wait for the bridge to be completed,” says Yuan Bo, 25, a graphic designer who takes a two-hour bus ride every week from his home in Anshun to help in his family’s Guanling restaurant.

What’s good for Yuan Bo and Guanling is good for China. While the recession-racked West debates the wisdom of borrowing billions of dollars and spending it on economic stimulus, China is reaching into its vast financial reserves to launch one of the most ambitious and expensive public-works programs ever undertaken. The Baling River Bridge is only one of hundreds of infrastructure projects — ports, airports, bridges, schools, hospitals, highways, railroads — on which China plans to spend about $450 billion over the next several years. Announced in November, this pumped-up New Deal is aimed at more than cushioning China’s economic fall as the global recession bites deeply into the country’s manufacturing and export sectors. The new projects will make it much easier for commerce and people to move around China, hence stimulating domestic demand and reducing China’s economic reliance on exports, vital as rich world consumers rebuild their balance sheets and international trade contracts.

Kobe Bryant in China

Kobe Bryant is very popular in China, and now he’s becoming even more involved.

One of the great curiosities in modern sports is the Chinese people’s lavish affection for Kobe Bryant. During last year’s Beijing Olympics, he was greeted with a rapturous reception and mobbed everywhere he went. He appears in commercials and on billboards, has a popular Web site and had a reality show on Chinese television. He sells more NBA jerseys there than Yao Ming.

On Tuesday in Los Angeles, the love affair will reach a new level. Not only is Mr. Bryant accepting an award from the Asia Society for his work as a “cultural ambassador,” the ceremony will be attended by Liu Peng, China’s Secretary of Sport and a member of China’s Communist Party Central Committee.

China’s embrace is largely an appreciation of Mr. Bryant’s basketball talent—he won his fourth NBA title earlier this month with the Los Angeles Lakers. “He reminds everyone of Michael Jordan,” says Shen Zhiyu, a senior basketball writer for Titan Sports, China’s largest sports daily.

But it is also a reflection of a deliberate campaign by Mr. Bryant to make inroads in the world’s most-populous country. In addition to his frequent visits to China (a planned trip in late July will be his fourth in as many years) and his considerable work on behalf of sponsor Nike, he’s assuming another identity: philanthropist.

In an attempt to tap into the Chinese government’s growing interest in promoting charity, Mr. Bryant is establishing the Kobe Bryant China Fund. The organization will partner with the Soong Ching Ling Foundation, a charity backed by the Chinese government, to raise money within China earmarked for education and health programs. Mr. Bryant’s existing fund, the Kobe Bryant Family Foundation, will also work to strengthen ties between the two countries by teaching middle-school students in the U.S. about Chinese language and culture. Mr. Bryant declined to say how much he is donating to the fund.

We will probably see many more athletes get involved with China, as it’s one of the largest markets in the world, and it’s largely an untapped market. Chinese investors recently bought a minority stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers, so we can probably expect LeBron James to increase his exposure in China as well.

Yao Ming might miss entire NBA season

Very for Yao Ming fans:

As the NBA draft approached, the grim truth about Yao Ming’s(notes) broken left foot hung like an anvil over the Houston Rockets. The fear isn’t that he’s just lost for next season, but longer.

The Rockets and Yao’s reps are frightened over his future, and the concern is the most base of all: Does Yao Ming ever play again?

“The realization has hit them that this is grave,” one NBA general manager said.

For now, the Rockets have privately told league peers it could be a full season before Yao might be able to return to basketball. Multiple league executives, officials close to Yao and two doctors with knowledge of the diagnoses are describing a troubling re-fracture of his navicular bone. Three pins were inserted a year ago, but the foot cracked in the playoffs and isn’t healing.

“It sounds like he’s missing most of next season, if not the entire 82 games,” one league executive who has had recent discussions with the Houston front office told Yahoo! Sports. “That’s all that [the Rockets] will concede quietly, but they know it’s probably much worse.”

Houston general manager Daryl Morey refused comment on Monday and a team spokesman said the Rockets will not have further comment until Yao undergoes additional medical tests.

Calls for the release of political activist Liu Xiaobo

While we see the rise of a fascist state in Iran, we are that the Chinese still have few political rights.

Dozens of prominent Chinese academics have signed a petition calling for the release of veteran political activist Liu Xiaobo.

They say his arrest shows that no one in China has the right to publicly express their opinions.

Mr Liu was formally arrested on Tuesday – more than six months after he was detained by the authorities.

He has been charged with inciting subversion by spreading rumours and defaming the government.

Mr Liu, who is a writer, has spent more than two decades pushing for political reforms in China.

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