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China 2.0

Why China Must Bury The False Alibi Of "State Secrets"

Beijing police on Tiananmen square
Beijing police on Tiananmen square
Qi Yue


BEIJING - One of the stated functions of the Ministry of Environmental Protection is to monitor the environment, and to publish the findings. But when a Beijing lawyer asked the Ministry to publish its national soil pollution survey, he was turned away. The reason? The findings were a state secret.

In China, the "state secret” is a concept the government routinely uses when it doesn’t want to disclose information. Governments should follow the principle of ‘disclosure as a rule, secrecy as an exception.’ Unfortunately, in this country the exact opposite is the standing rule: ‘keep everything secret and disclosures as exceptions.’

For instance, when the public demanded the releaseof the minutes of meetings for the formulation of new national dairy standards, the Ministry of Health refused on the grounds that it would create "consternation in the community and unnecessarily burden administrative staff."

And when people asked the Ministry of Railways to make the tendering process of its new and very expensive online booking service public, they were told to mind their own business. Same when they asked about how much money had been collected from tolls on the Beijing Capital Airport Expressway and where the money had gone… the list of state secrets is long.

Article 9 of China’s Open Government Information Regulations says that "Administrative organs should disclose government information that involves the vital interests of citizens, legal persons or organizations; information that needs to be extensively known or participated in by the general public.”

Clearly, information relating to soil contamination data involves the vital interests of citizens and should be made public, and contamination management needs public participation. Article 10 goes further and “emphasizes disclosure of information on the supervision and inspection of environmental protection, public health, safe production, food and drugs and product quality.”

It is clear that the national soil contamination data is in line with every aspect of these provisions and should be denied the state secret treatment.

Lazy governance

Of course, we understand the government officials’ worry that a disclosure of information could create a panic. But this fear does not seem justified – as was recently proved by the case of PM 2.5 particulate matter pollution. After Beijing authorities were finally forced to publish its air quality measurements, which showed the city’s air pollution had reached dangerous levels, there was no panic. On the contrary, the capital's residents became more aware of environmental protection and the sales of fireworks decreased.

[rebelmouse-image 27086372 alt="""" original_size="500x354" expand=1]

Beijing fog over Tiananmen Square - Photo: michael davis-burchat

So why are there so many state secrets? The reason is the authorities’ lazy governance – they know that publishing information will give them additional work and will complicate their lives. They have obviously forgotten that as civil servants, their rights are endowed by the people and should be used for the people.

If our officials realized this, then they would know that the national soil pollution survey, which took years to conduct and cost taxpayers much money, should be made public. Not to mention that it is just nonsense to refuse the public’s demands for disclosure.

This is why China needs to set up an oversight and accountability mechanism so that public institutions stop denying public requests for transparency. Our representatives should play a more positive role. This is definitely something that should be addressed at this year’s National People’s Congress – our 3,000 representatives’ true mission is to respond to public issues of general interest.

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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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