In March, as the Chinese city of Chongqing reeled from the ousting of its charismatic party secretary Bo Xilai, the Three Gorges Corporation began preliminary construction work on the Xiaonanhai dam 每 a project upriver of the city that Bo had strongly advocated in the face of environmental opposition, and the last in a series of 12 new dams along the Yangtze river.
Green campaigners were dismayed. Although some still hold out hope that the construction can be halted, many fear that the dam will ruin a crucial reserve for rare and endangered fish species, including the Chinese paddlefish and the Yangtze sturgeon 每 a “living fossil” that has survived since the time of the dinosaurs.
The construction work “basically means a death sentence for these endangered species”, said Chang Cheng, a campaigner for Friends of Nature (FON), China’s oldest NGO.
But it not only sounds a possible death knell for an ancient species, it is also a bad portent for access to information in China.
Four years ago, China’s Regulations on Open Government Information (OGI) legislation became effective. A year earlier, Hu Jintao publicly endorsed greater government transparency, saying: “Power must be exercised in the sunshine to ensure that it is exercised correctly.”
Hu’s statement may seem surprising when contrasted with the recent crackdown on free expression after Bo’s downfall 每 censors have deleted online “rumours” about the country’s leaders and Bo-supporting websites have closed. Article 1 is at least true to the spirit of his words: it states that the purpose of the regulations is to “ensure that citizens, legal persons and other organisations obtain government information in accordance with the law, enhance transparency of the work of government, promote administration in accordance with the law, and bring into full play the role of government information in serving the people’s production and livelihood and their economic and social activities”.
Sam Geall | Guardian