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New Chinese Leadership to Put Greater Emphasis on Fighting Pollution - 2003-03-14

China's environment minister says the country's new leadership will put greater emphasis on curbing the nation's "severe" pollution.

Environment Minister Xie Zhenhua says China has cut the amount of pollution emitted by its industries and cities over the past five years.

But Mr. Xie says pollution levels are still far too high and a concern to citizens and top officials alike.

He says Hu Jintao, who will be named China's new president on Saturday, has said he wants environmental protection to take a higher priority.

Mr. Xie says, in the future, when officials balance economic gains against environmental damage, the environment should win.

This is a radical turnaround for Chinese authorities. China's rapid economic growth, with its factories, highways and businesses, has contributed to China's notoriously foul air and dirty water.

The minister says China has passed laws limiting the amount of pollution that factories can pour into the air and water, but says enforcing those rules is a problem.

He admits that some local officials have disciplined Environmental Protection Bureau employees for truthfully describing bad environmental situations. But Mr. Xie says such problems will diminish, as local officials become better educated about environmental matters.