BEIJING, July 9 China's environment minister
said his ministry ranked among the world's "four major
embarrassing departments" but defended the agency, saying it was
hampered by overlapping functions in government, state media
said on Tuesday.
The comments by Zhou Shengxian are the latest in a string of
blunt admissions by Chinese leaders that the country still has
a long way to go in tackling pollution.
Public anger over smog that blanketed many northern cities
in January has spread to online appeals for Beijing to clean up
water supplies, especially after the rotting corpses of
thousands of pigs were found in March in a river that supplies
Social unrest spurred by environmental complaints is
becoming common across the country, to the government's alarm.
"I've heard that there are four major embarrassing
departments in the world and that China's ministry of
environmental protection is one of them," state news agency
Xinhua's official microblog account quoted Zhou as saying.
"Our environmental work involves many departments. Many of
the functions are overlapping," Zhou said, adding that water,
land and carbon output were all managed by different ministries.
Despite Xinhua later removing a reference to Zhou's remarks
describing the agency as an embarrassment, his comments spread
widely on China's other state media microblogs.
Zhou, a two-term environment minister, has presided over
China's worst pollution in recent memory.
He received among the fewest votes from China's lawmakers in
the race for the cabinet at this year's meeting of the National
People's Congress, a largely rubberstamp parliament body.
Zhou said he was worried about the public health impact of
dire pollution contaminating the air, soil and water, Xinhua
"The current challenge facing the environmental
(authorities) is how to properly deal with the environmental
problems caused by economic development," Zhou said.
China routinely vows resolve in cleaning up pollution, but
little is ever done, mainly for lack of enforcement in the face
of a drive for corporate profits.
Chinese microbloggers mocked Zhou's comments, underscoring
how far the agency has fallen in public esteem.
"Of course it's an embarrassment. What is originally a
department for environmental protection has become an
environmental protection department that conceals!" a
microblogger wrote on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
Many Chinese have expressed disquiet over the scarcity of
available information about the environment. The environment
ministry denied a lawyer access to soil pollution data because
it was a "state secret".
Air pollution is shortening the lives of people in northern
China by about 5.5 years compared to those in the south, the
disastrous legacy of a policy to provide free heating coal in
the north, an international study showed.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)