25 March 2017
Environmental pollution now poses a major non-traditional security (NTS) challenge to the Chinese society, and smog is its most visible element.
In a government report to the National People’s Congress earlier this month, Chinese premier Li Keqiang reaffirmed the government’s resolution and commitment to address air pollution as well as other environmental concerns.
Despite the strengthened efforts to curb pollution, however, incidents of heavy pollution still recur. In December 2016 alone, over 20 cities in northern China were affected by three waves of severe smoggy days, with the first-ever red alert of heavy air pollution issued.
The persistence of heavy smog calls for a drastic change in approach to address the environmental challenges.
The elevation of NTS issues in China’s national strategy indicates that the country faces mounting challenges from such problems, among which air pollution receives the widest attention due to its visibility and wide coverage in China. Health effects are the most worrying consequence of heavy smog.
The widespread air pollution has economic consequences. A report of the World Bank pointed out that acid rain attributable to sulphur dioxide pollution cost over US$4 billion (RM17.7 billion) of losses in China’s agricultural sector. Air pollution-associated health problems impose heavy burdens on the country’s welfare system, the cost of which was equivalent to almost ten per cent of China’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013.
Other effects on economic development include shortened working life expectancy, emigration of talents and decline of inbound tourists. Moreover, negative impacts of air pollution on people’s wellbeing constitute a risk factor of social stability, with pollution accounting for over half of mass protests in China in recent years.
Problems that threaten the existence of a country and its people are considered security threats. As demonstrated above, heavy air pollution damages the environment that the Chinese people depend on, endangers public health security and affects economic development. It is a pressing threat to national security and poses a challenge to the legitimacy of the government.
… Lina Gong is a Research Fellow with the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS), S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
NTS Centre / Online
Last updated on 27/03/2017