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What can China do for the world in the 21st century?

I sat down to lunch today with a group of students from Peking University and one of them said with a smile, “Karen, would you like to choose the fish? We hear you are expert at this.” It took me a moment to realize that they had read yesterday’s blog post!

These young people were C.S. Kiang’s students, whom he had described as the best of the best. They gave me much hope for environmental cooperation and for the future of research on sustainable practices and technologies, and also broke down a preconception I’d had, that top Chinese students would be utterly focused on their particullar subject and unable to see the bigger picture. They were not only knowledge and intelligent, but charming, humorous, and very much interested in being involved in the world. It’s going to be a pleasure to get to know them better, and as some are going to be doing further work in the U.S., I expect to be able to introduce them to our staff. (We also got a hilarious lesson in tie tying. If Paul doesn’t mind, perhaps someone will email me a photo for the blog?)

“What can China do for the world in the 21st century?” is the question C.S. Kiang, dean of the College of Environmental Sciences at Peking University, asks his students. It was on my mind this morning as we attended the Economist Intelligence Unit’s breakfast meeting, “Going green with … environmentalism.” C.S. was the first speaker, and others included Christine Loh, Founder & CEO, Civic Exchange; Nathan Cheng, General Manager, China, Energy and Sustainability Solutions; Johnson Controls, Humphrey Lau, President, Novozymes China. The introductory notes to meeting, which was organized by Steven Xu of the Economist, give soome important figures:

. . . by 2011, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s forecasts, the country’s energy consumption will have risen to 86% of that of the US, compared with just 39% in 2000. Although per-capita energy consumption—and emissions—is far below that of countries like the US>, this still translates into a huge problem in absolute terms. A more immediate energy-related concern is that the country has been building a large number of new power plants in response to the nationwide power shortages of 2004 and 2005. Most of the new plants are coal-fired, and they include many unauthorised plants that are unlikely to meet environmental guidelines.

China’s water problems are also severe. The country has only around 6.5% of the world’s renewable internal fresh-water resources, and yet has to support around one-fifth of the world’s population. Existing resources are unevenly distributed, a situation that adds to the problem of water shortages. . . .

Students from the College of Environmental Sciences, Peking University Here’s one of those silly posed shots we all have to put up with: I’m glad to have this one, though, as a way to remember this wonderful group.

This evening was spent talking about guanxi and Guanxi: The China Letter and possible cooperation with a delightful Beijing television producer and her colleagues, over an amazing meal. (One does not go hungry in China!) It’s become a joke, that I’m here to meet more people and get to know China and the Chinese–that is, to make guanxi. And it’s getting so Tom and I are counting our remaining hours in Beijing, trying to figure out how to squeeze in meetings and work and also maybe get to the Summer Palace.

P.S. I found that I got a reasonably good photo of some of the musicians at the Temple of Heaven and have added it to the post below. I hope it gives those of you outside China a sense of what it’s like here, in the park on a spring afternoon.

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