You know, all that stuff about how China wasn't going to just go for high-speed growth any longer. From now on, local officials spouting double-digit GDP figures as evidence to the central government that they deserved promotions were to be very much the 'old China', to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld.
In the 'new China', the government would no longer be intent on mere outputs. Quantity of growth was out and quality was in, something it could measure through a yardstick called 'Green GDP' that took account of the impact of higher output on the environment.
'Green GDP' is basically a sexy way of rephrasing the notion of sustainable development, much the rage in the West about two decades ago when soft issues like the environment moved to the forefront of voters' concerns.
Hu Jintao has been talking about such issues for nigh on two years now, starting with a 2003 speech enunciating the 'five balances', between the "domestic and international, the inland and the coast, rural and urban, society and the economy, and nature and man."
The 'five balances' are part of the overriding mantra of Mr Hu's rule, of the need to build and promote "the harmonious society." With this in mind, is 'Green GDP' set to become all the rage in China? At first blush, the phrase 'in your dreams' comes to mind.
As so often is the case in China, the rhetoric of top-level pronouncements is highly progressive, for a mixture of good and bad reasons.
Chinese often spout phrases like 'Green GDP' and the like because they believe that is just what foreigners wish to hear. But the small cabals of enlightened cadres making policy in the central government also know that the present economic model, which is energy intensive and environmentally destructive, is not sustainable.
Making local officials worry less about short-term growth and more about the environment will not happen overnight, if ever in some areas. But without a clear stand from the center, the notion that you can't trash the environment forever without there being consequences for economic growth and quality of life will never percolate through the lower levels of government.
But let's offer a rare word of sympathy for these much-maligned local officials, who are often blamed for all of China's ills. On the one hand, the center demands they build the economy to create jobs to make sure that their region is free of political problems.
On the other, it now insists they do this without causing the same kind of environmental damage that has occurred in every single developed country in the world during their industrial revolutions.
It is a big task, and one reason the 'Green GDP' will not be dominating discussions in small cities in China for a while, no matter what they say in Beijing.
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