China today has the second largest economy in the world in terms of its nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) determined from the market value of goods produced. It’s number one by virtue of purchasing power parity or GDP PPP. Soon such economic hairsplitting will be unnecessary as the People’s Republic of China will see its nominal GDP join its GDP PPP at the top of the world economic mountain thanks to its aggressive investment policy.
Overseas investment hit a historic high in 2015 of US$118 billion. 2016, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce, saw that figure increase to US$176.4 billion. And 2017 projections are expecting US$200 billion if the purchase of the Swiss agribusiness firm Syngenta goes through.
China’s investments target energy, agriculture and the world’s seafood supply to mention a few key areas. Economically China has come a long way since the late 1970s.
The problem facing China is not so much one of return on investment and economics as it is China’s own national environmental sustainability.
China’s drinking water supply is not only in such short supply that it cannot meet citizen demands but 90 percent is also dangerously polluted. Fertilizers and pesticides contaminate wells and aquifers. Heavy metals from mining, the petrochemical industry as well as domestic and industrial waste add to the dangerous brew passing as drinking water. The nation’s annual water-borne health toll sees 190 million fall ill and 60,000 die from pollution-related diseases. Some 300 million endure drinking water shortages thanks to China’s headlong race for economic prosperity without environmental safeguards in place.
Pollution is not confined to drinking water. Most of its waterways – rivers, inlets and bays – are also horribly polluted.
China’s industrial plants spew toxic substances making the nation’s air barely breathable. Equal to China’s disregard for its disposal of industrial and agricultural pollutants is its disdain for ethical sourcing of wild seafood. Illegal harvesting and black market seafood sales coupled with the industrial and agricultural insults China’s environment must endure, if left unchecked, will eventually render all the nation’s recently accumulated economic wealth worthless.
To be fair, China is making an effort to adhere to global regulatory standards. It implemented the “Renewable Energy Law” in part to protect its environment. It is increasingly striving to adapt to global regulatory standards in the areas of labor, globalization, and product safety. The Chinese government is committing to green investment and energy-saving strategies. Between 1998-2007 China invested US$12 billion for expansion of environment conservation and another US$32 billion in energy research.
What is lacking is the spiritual vitality once present in every Chinese aspect of life during its early dynastic era of regional economic and political splendor. China then integrated respect for the environment into the life of its people and nation centuries before the Mao-inspired Cultural Revolution was loosed across the land. That horrendous period from 1966 to 1976 murdered 30 million Chinese and obliterated priceless antique remnants of its cultural ascendance during its brutal attempt to purge the nation of capitalist influence and the four “olds:” culture, custom, habit and ideas.
Those four “olds” were resplendent with Chinese reverence for Nature. The integration of that respect can even be seen in Chinese martial arts terminology. Forms named “pushing clouds,” “grasping the bird’s tail,” “swimming in air,” and “walking like bear,” remind the trainee that nature and life are inseparable.
The Cultural Revolution drained the spiritual from Chinese culture. The Triple Bottom Line of ethical capitalism…or in China’s case …of the true economic essence of Socialism is a suggested remedy to help save China from its own race to modern prosperity.
The triple bottom line unites economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and social equity. It promotes vision, hope, altruistic love, meaning, membership, inner life, and organizational commitment that in turn instills an ethic that may replace environmental destruction with a deeper harmony among business, government, nature and people.