President Xi Jinping's inspection of the estuary of the Yellow River in east China's Shandong Province may seem to be simply another of his focused messages on environmental protection and ecological civilization. It is that, sure, but perhaps there is also something more going on here: a Deep Message. First, the report; then, the Deep Message.
The Yellow River is China's second longest river, flowing through nine provinces. It is "the cradle of Chinese civilization" and is called "the Mother River". President Xi came to the Yellow River Delta in the city of Dongying, where the Yellow River empties into the Bohai Sea and where the Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve is an important breeding and transit area for migrant birds, said to number some six million birds of 368 species.
President Xi visited a dock, an ecological monitoring center, and a national-level nature reserve. He watched the waterways, examined the wetlands, and learned about the ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River basin. He then visited a high-tech area for agricultural industry and checked on the innovative development of the Shengli Oilfield.
Lauding the Yellow River as an ecological barrier, an economic zone, and a cultural heritage site, Xi continued his theme promoting ecological protection and high-quality development as an essential part of China's great rejuvenation and sustainable development.
Since becoming China's senior leader in 2012, Xi has visited all of the Yellow River basin's provinces and autonomous regions; from August 2019 to June 2020, he made four visits in less than a year.
So, the question must be asked: Why again now? The answer may be the confluence of three separate situations.
First: China has been suffering coal shortages and power outages, and with winter approaching, there is concern for people's welfare. As a result, the government is accelerating the release of additional coal production capacity to ensure an adequate "emergency supply" of energy.
One can appreciate the social necessity, but increasing coal production seems to undercut the government's commitment to curtailing pollution and reducing its carbon footprint. That's why Xi's overt commitment to environmental protection on the Yellow River makes the statement, in essence, that while the country may have some short-term requirements, China's long-term commitment is unchanged.
Indeed, the relative share of coal in China's energy consumption decreased from 64% in 2015 to 57% in 2020; more significant, Xi has committed China to begin phasing down coal use from 2026 as part of its integrated efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Second: The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26, will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, the UK, beginning on October 31, and in the run-up, President Xi is giving an unambiguous signal, by his actions, in addition to his words, that environmental protection and climate change are priorities.
Third and perhaps most important: The sixth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, to be held in early November, will review a key resolution on the major achievements and historical experience of the Party's past 100 years and will set the ideological agenda for the future, especially for the 20th CPC National Congress in 2022 - and by focusing on environmental issues on his likely last inspection tour prior to the sixth plenum, President Xi is sending the message that environmental protection and ecological civilization are at the top of his list of achievements and ambitions.
Thus, three reasons for Xi's Yellow River inspection: 1) Increasing coal capacity does not mean that environmental protection is less important. 2) China's actions evidence its commitment to UN COP26. 3) The grand vision of China's great rejuvenation is fused with ecological civilization.
That's Xi's Yellow River Deep Message.
Script: Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Editors: Yang Yutong, Hao Xinxin
Designer: Qi Haiming
Producer: Wang Ying
Supervisor: Mei Yan, Adam Zhu
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