Principles to Apply in Protecting the Eco-Environment

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China III Updated: 2021-12-30

Principles to Apply in Protecting the Eco-Environment* 

May 18, 2018 

Protecting the eco-environment is a major political issue related to the mission and purpose of the CPC; it is also a major social issue related to people's wellbeing. The Party has always attached great importance to this issue, and established resource conservation and environmental protection as a fundamental national policy, and sustainable development as a national strategy. As economic and social development proceeds, our comprehension of the overall plan for building socialism with Chinese characteristics has evolved, from the Two Progresses1 (in the 1980s), to the Three-sphere Plan2 (in the 1990s), to the Four-sphere Plan3 (in 2007), and to the Five-sphere Integrated Plan today. The process represents a major practical and theoretical innovation, which has brought about a profound change in China's philosophy and model of development.

The principal challenge facing our society is the gap between unbalanced and inadequate development and the ever-growing expectation of the people for a better life. To meet the people's need for a quality eco-environment has become an important element of this challenge. The general public is looking forward to a rapid improvement. Their aspiration for a better life is the goal of our Party, and solving their most pressing and immediate concerns is our mission. The people's support is our top political priority. Therefore, we should respond to the people's opinions, hopes, and concerns, promoting environmental protection, preserving the ecosystems, and providing more quality eco-products.

Humanity is a community that rises and falls as one. Protecting the eco-environment is a common challenge and a joint responsibility for the whole world. Success in this endeavor will be good for Chinese socialism; otherwise it will become a pretext for forces with ulterior motives to attack us.

Since humanity entered the industrial age, rapid traditional industrialization, while bringing about great material wealth, has accelerated the consumption of natural resources, and broken the original cycle and balance of the ecosystems, resulting in a tense relationship between humanity and nature. Since the 1930s, a number of environmental incidents have occurred in Western countries, causing huge losses, which have shocked the world and triggered a profound reflection on the development model of capitalism.

In the process of more than 200 years of modernization, industrialization was realized in no more than 30 countries with a total population of no more than 1 billion. If we promote eco-environmental progress and build China, the largest developing country with a population of more than 1.3 billion, into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful, the influence of our achievement will be worldwide.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, our Party has put forward a series of new concepts, ideas and strategies in answering the important theoretical and practical questions of why to pursue eco-environmental progress, what the goal is, and how to achieve it. In order to succeed in this endeavor in the new era, we must adhere to the following principles:

First, we must pursue the harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature. Humanity and nature are a community of life. There is no substitute for the current eco-environment. When we use it, we take it for granted. But once damaged, it will struggle to recover. "Heaven and earth coexist with me; all things and I are one."4 "Heaven and earth do not speak, yet the seasons change and all things grow."5 When human beings make rational use of nature and protect it, the rewards of nature are often generous; when human beings rudely exploit and plunder nature, the punishment is bound to be merciless. It is an immutable law that harm caused by human actions to nature will eventually hurt human beings themselves. "All things must be in harmony with nature to grow, and obtain from nature to thrive."6 There are many vivid examples. One of them is Dujiangyan, a large-scale water conservancy project on the Minjiang River near the city of Chengdu on the Chengdu Plain, in southwest China's Sichuan Province. When it was first built in the Warring States Period more than 2,000 years ago, the flood patterns of the Minjiang River and the topography of the Chengdu Plain were important factors to be considered. The project is still in use today – it has benefited generations of local residents.

In the whole process of economic development, we must adhere to the principle of giving priority to conservation, protection, and the restoration of nature. We should not think about taking from nature without giving back, developing without protecting, and consuming without restoring. We should protect the eco-environment as we protect our eyes, and cherish it as we cherish our own lives. We should lay the groundwork for long-term benefits, take concrete steps to protect nature, restore the ecosystems, and create a beautiful environment. We should make it possible for people to enjoy the natural landscape and retain their love of nature, while returning serenity, harmony and beauty back to nature.

Second, clear waters and green mountains are invaluable assets. This is an important concept of development and a major principle behind our modernization drive. It emphasizes the relationship between economic development and eco-environmental protection – this means preserving and developing productive forces. It points out a new way to coordinate development and protection. Clear waters and green mountains are not only natural and ecological wealth, but also social and economic wealth. Protecting the eco-environment means protecting nature's value and adding value to nature's capital, protecting the potential of economic and social development, and giving full play to the ecological, social and economic effects of nature.

Eco-environmental problems are after all the results of our development model and our way of life. In order to fundamentally solve the problems, we must put into practice the vision of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development, and accelerate the formation of spatial configurations, industrial structures, production models, and lifestyles that favor resource conservation and environmental protection. We must also keep economic and human activities within the carrying capacity of natural resources and the eco-environment, leaving time and space for nature to recuperate.

We should move faster to draw and enforce red lines for the protection of the ecosystems, the quality of the environment, and rational resource utilization. Crossing these red lines by continuing the extensive growth model and through unlimited plundering of existing resources at the expense of future generations will no longer be tolerated. To enforce these red lines, it is necessary to establish a strict and unified system to manage, with consistent standards, all major environmental spaces. By doing so, we will ensure that ecological functions will not weaken and environmental areas will not decrease – we will continue to conserve these areas. Environmental quality cannot be allowed to drop further; it must only improve. Local Party and government officials must be held accountable if their regions' ecosystems are seriously damaged and their environment deteriorates. As to resource utilization, we must ensure proper exploitation within the bearing capacity of natural resources, taking into consideration not only the needs of humans and of today, but also the needs of nature and of the future.

Third, a good eco-environment is the most inclusive form of public wellbeing. We should choose to do the things that win the approval of the people, and avoid doing things that they oppose. A good environment is part of the public's wellbeing; green mountains and blue skies bring delight and happiness to the people. Economic development contributes to improving people's wellbeing, so does eco-environmental protection. We should create more material and cultural wealth to meet the people's growing expectation for a better life, and effectively preserve the ecosystems to meet their growing expectation for a beautiful environment. We must pursue environmental benefits for the people with the emphasis on solving prominent problems that threaten their health. We must accelerate this work, provide more quality eco-products, and realize social fairness and justice.

Eco-environmental progress is a common cause that requires the participation and contribution of the general public. Its results will also be shared by the people. To build a beautiful China, we should transform our efforts into conscientious action on the part of all. Each and every individual is a protector, builder and beneficiary, and no one should be a bystander, an outsider or a critic. No one should remain aloof and pay only lip service. We must enhance people's awareness of resource conservation, environmental protection, and a healthy ecosystem. We need to cultivate eco-friendly ethics and codes of conduct, launch nationwide green environment campaigns, and encourage the whole of society to contribute to environmental protection by reducing pollution and consumption of energy and other resources.

Fourth, mountains, rivers, forests, farmlands, lakes and grasslands are a community of life. An ecosystem is an integrated natural system of interdependent and closely-related ecological chains. The lifeline of humans rests with farmlands, that of farmlands with water, that of water with mountains, that of mountains with earth, and that of earth with forests and grasslands. This community of life is the material basis for the survival and development of humanity. We should take a broad and long-term view. We must try to avoid earning a little only to lose a lot, or attending to one thing and losing sight of others. Otherwise, our actions are bound to cause systematic and long-lasting damage.

In order to seek a new way of governance from a systematic and broader perspective, we must no longer take a fragmented and palliative approach that only treats the symptoms, nor can we care for our own business and hold others back. Instead we must make an overall plan that takes all relevant factors into consideration, and adopt multiple measures simultaneously to advance eco-environmental progress in all respects. For instance, to achieve the best results in systematic control of water pollution, it is necessary to consider a comprehensive range of factors concerning a body of water – river banks on both sides, upstream and downstream, surface water and groundwater, rivers, oceans, aquatic ecosystems, water resources, pollution prevention and control, and environmental protection.

We will further integrate the protection and restoration of mountains, rivers, forests, farmlands, lakes and grasslands, carry out large-scale afforestation campaigns, and speed up the comprehensive control of soil erosion, desertification, and stony desertification. In developing the Yangtze River Economic Belt, we will strive to step up conservation of the Yangtze River, stop over-development, and prioritize environmental protection and green development. All economic activities involving the Yangtze River must be conditional on not damaging the river's ecosystem.

Fifth, we should protect the eco-environment with the strictest regulations and laws. Eco-environmental protection relies on laws and regulations. Most of the outstanding environmental problems in China result from incomplete systems, the lack of appropriate rules and enforceable laws, inadequate implementation, and ineffective punishment. We must speed up institutional innovation, put in place more regulations, improve support systems, and strengthen their implementation. Regulations must be made mandatory, so that they become a powerful deterrent. We must use rules to supervise officials and their exercise of power in protecting blue skies and increasing green coverage. We must associate power with responsibility and accountability, so as to ensure the implementation of the CPC Central Committee's policies and plans for building an eco-civilization.

A country is strong when its law enforcement is strong; it is weak when its law enforcement is weak. The power of laws and decrees can only be established through their enforcement. The efficacy of rules lies in their implementation. We have introduced a series of reform measures and related rules. They must be carried out as strictly as the central inspection of environmental protection. The binding force and authority of the institutions must be firmly established, and selective implementation and perfunctory enforcement must be banned.

It is necessary to implement the accountability system among leading officials for protecting our eco-environment, and strictly assess their performance. Those who make ill-judged decisions that cause harmful consequences must be held accountable, and for life.

We must never be lenient in punishing actions that damage our eco-environment. We will strike hard at typical cases that cause damage to the eco-environment and send out the signal that the perpetrators will be severely punished. Anyone who damages the environment – no matter where or when – shall face the consequences. The institutions must not become a "paper tiger".

Sixth, we should work together to promote a global eco-civilization. The eco-environment bears on the future of humanity. Building a green home is our common dream. Protecting the environment and dealing with climate change requires the joint efforts of all countries. No country can distance itself or remain immune from such challenges.

China has become an important participant, contributor and leader in promoting a global eco-civilization. We advocate jointly building a clean and beautiful world that respects nature and favors green development. China will be heavily involved in global environmental governance, have a bigger say and greater influence, play an active part in the transformation of the international order, and help form global solutions to eco-environmental protection and to sustainable development. We must always adopt the environment-friendly approach and play a constructive role in international cooperation on climate change. We will promote the philosophy and practice of eco-environmental progress in the Belt and Road Initiative to benefit the peoples of all countries along the Belt and Road.

* Part of the speech at the National Conference on Eco-environmental Protection.


1 This refers to China's plan for material and cultural progress. 

2 This refers to China's plan for economic, political and cultural progress. 

3 This refers to China's plan for economic, political, cultural and social progress. 

4 Zhuang Zi

5 Li Bai: "Letter to Pei Kuan, Governor Secretary of Anzhou Prefecture" (Shang An Zhou Pei Zhang Shi Shu). 

6 Xun Zi: Xun Zi. Xun Zi (c. 325-238 BC) was a philosopher, thinker and educator in the Warring States Period.

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