China summons officials to pollution 'name and shame' meeting

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s environment ministry has criticized senior officials from three cities for failing to fix serious pollution problems, in Beijing’s latest attempt to name and shame regional governments for persistent environmental violations.

FILE PHOTO: Residents on their bicycles and electric bikes wait for the traffic at an intersection amid heavy smog in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Local officials needed to “improve their political stance” and follow President Xi Jinping’s idea of environmental protection, officials told two mayors and a county chief at a meeting held in front of reporters on Monday.

“Local authorities should learn lessons from this meeting ... you should dare to do a real job and actually grasp the problems you have failed to improve for years,” said He Xianghong, deputy head of an environment ministry monitoring team.

Xi has become the driving force behind China’s four-year war on pollution, and said last month he would use the full might of the Communist Party to reverse damage to the environment.

The president’s direct involvement has turned environmental compliance into a matter of political loyalty, putting regions under even more pressure to comply with tough new rules and standards.

But while some provinces have been racing to meet or even exceed their targets, especially in developed eastern regions close to the capital Beijing, others have fallen behind.

The city of Yulin in southwestern Guangxi, well-known for its annual dog meat festival, had failed to rectify problems including the treatment of animal waste and water pollution, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) said.

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Air quality has also been deteriorating since 2016, and the city was found to have tried to tamper with equipment at a local smog monitoring station.

Yulin city was “taking a negative attitude towards central government inspections and rectification plans,” said Liu Changgen, vice-director of MEE’s supervision office.

Wei Tao, mayor of Yulin, said his government had wrongly been reluctant to punish officials who failed to follow environmental rules, saying the priority had been to attract firms to invest in the city.

The ministry also summoned officials from the county of Shizhu in southwest China’s Chongqing for allowing an industrial park to encroach on protected nature reserves. Yichun in Jiangxi province was also charged with not rectifying its environmental failings.

In April, MEE held the first of its name-and-shame meetings, summoning mayors from three northern cities to account for their failings during last winter’s crackdown on smog.

The country’s smoggiest province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, said last month that it had fired and reprimanded more than a dozen officials for failing to control air pollution last year.

Reporting by Muyu Xu and David Stanway; editing by Richard Pullin