Happy Year of the Pig

Today is the first day of the year of the pig. Happy new year to all of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from snowy Vermont. Unfortunately, there really is not much of a festive atmosphere here in Vermont since there is not much of an Asian community here. Nevertheless, after making the obligatory family phone calls, I am vicariously experiencing the festivities by watching new years programming on the CCTV 4 channel on cable.

The Chinese Small Animals Protection Association is asking the National People’s Congress to draft a law protecting animal welfare. (SCMP 2/17) The focus seems have been an instance of cruel treatment of several hundred cats in Tianjin. It is interesting to see something like this in the wake of last years anti-rabies campaign. In a couple of cities thousands of dogs, some of them family pets, were clubbed to death as a preventative measure to curb the spread of rabies. (See, e.g., Xinhua 8/5/2006) Would a law banning animal cruelty have made a difference in such a campaign? Considering how poorly many laws are enforced, it does not seem likely.

By the way, I am not sure how widely folks have caught on to the following interesting tid-bit – last month, Mr. Xie Zhenhua was appointed deputy chief of the NDRC (National Development and Reform Commission). (Xinhua 1/19/2007) In case the name does not ring any bells, Xie Zhenhua was the former chief of SEPA until he resigned in December 2006 in an effort to “take responsibility” for the Songhua river benzene spill. The benzene spill fouled the water supply of the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang province and resulted in a several day shut-off of the municipal water supply in the middle of winter.

While, I think, it’s always been clear that Xie Zhenhua was not the official primarily responsible for the spill or the mismanagement of the spill response, including keeping the contamination secret from the public, his forced resignation had been intended to send a signal that highly placed officials had to take responsibility and be accountable for government failures that had serious consequences. Xie’s appointment is to one of the most powerful central government commissions. The elevation, only a little more than a year after his supposedly being held responsible for the Songhua river spill, is really a mockery of the idea of accountability. In all fairness to him, I suppose that he is really being rewarded for being the scapegoat and willing fall-guy for what happened with the mismanaged spill response. But it also means that the message of deterrence of holding high-ranking government officials “accountable,” for example by forcing them to resign, has little substance and rings rather hollow.

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