Remarks by the President on the Environment with Chinese Environmental Specialists

Office of the Press Secretary
(Guilin, People's Republic of China)

For Immediate Release July 2, 1998


Seven Star Park
Guilin, People's Republic of China

11:00 A.M. (L)

Q (started in progress) -- the local government to stop

the logging. But the local government is so poor, they ask for compensation. And then finally, the central government agreed to give them 11 million RMB

per year to stop the logging.


Q So, now, well, for the time being, the monkeys are safe. This is one thing we have done. And I brought with me a picture of the monkeys and will give it to you as a gift.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, thank you.

Q So this is the only red-lipped primate besides human beings. And the total number of it is less than 12 --

THE PRESIDENT: My cousins. (Laughter.) How many total number?

Q Less than 1,200.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, in our country we have exactly the same issue. We have, in the Pacific Northwest and the West -- California, Oregon, Washington -- the U.S., we have -- about 90 percent of our old-growth forest is gone. So now we have a law, a national law on endangered species, and it also protects the forest.

And we still have some logging in the forest, but you can't go in and just cut all the trees down, you have to be very careful, tree by tree, as the aging process goes, because I don't know how old the trees are, but these trees in the U.S. sometimes take 200 years for full growth. When our Native tribes were there -- Native American tribes -- they would only cut the trees after seven generations of growth. And, of course, that's not enough for an industrial society. So now, we have pine forest; we just grow them faster. In 20 to 30 years they can be harvested. And we try to get people to stay away from the old growth.

So, in this case, as I understand it, the provincial government has the first say, but the national government can come in and stop it.

Q Yes. And actually, the county government, they own -- they run the state timber companies there.

THE PRESIDENT: What about tree planting projects, who does that? At what level is that done?

Q Well, at different levels. The central government, local government, and also NGOs are all involved in this tree planting. But tree planting is so slow that all these older forests -- they may have some trees over 400 years old, and all these newly planted trees are so small, there's no comparison with the forest.

THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. Interestingly enough, we now believe that tree planting may be most important in cities. We just had a study done in the U.S. which shows that a tree planted in a city will take in ten times as much carbon dioxide as a tree planted in the countryside. Now, you say, well, of course, because that's where the smog is. But the important thing is we did not know until this study was done that the tree could take in ten times as much and still process it.

I noticed in Shanghai yesterday -- I say this because Shanghai, you know, is growing very fast and they have all these wonderful new buildings -- but I drove to one of the building complexes yesterday to meet a family in their new home and I drove past a lot of the old residential areas, and in all the old areas there were lots of trees -- not only trees down the street, but trees up against the buildings.

So we're looking at whether in our country we should be supporting more of these tree planting operations in the cities because they do much more to clean the air than we had thought they did.

(In commenting on children's health)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, one of the things I think will really help is your government is moving to ban lead in the gasoline, going to unleaded gasoline. And that will help a great deal. And that's a very forward step.

But also children's lungs, they get polluted with all the things in the atmosphere. And, you're right, that will make -- smoking will become, interestingly enough, even more dangerous, more difficult because of all the pollution in the atmosphere.

So one of the things that I hope we can do in our partnership with the Chinese government is to work on the technologies that will clean up the air in ways that we have been able to do without hurting the economy. We think there are ways to do that.

In fact, one of the things that I hope -- I'm glad we have one business person here because one of the things we have seen is that we have actually created a lot of new businesses for cleaning the environment, and it creates a lot of jobs, provides a lot of opportunity for people to get an education and do this work.

THE PRESIDENT: I believe that China has a unique opportunity because you're developing rapidly, but later in time than other countries, to avoid some of the terrible mistakes we made. And if I could just mention, in the conservation area, our traditional energy use that causes pollution is about one-third in vehicles -- transportation -- about one-third in buildings, both housing and office buildings, and about one-third in factories and in power plants. And I think that if you -- again, in China, it's probably more in factories and power plants -- a bigger percentage -- probably now, but it will come toward these numbers.

If you just taken them each in turn, in the vehicles, you have opportunities that, I think, that will come to you because of the development of fuel injection engines, which will take 80 percent of the pollution away, or natural gas-powered vehicles, which, I think, are worth looking at.

In the residential areas, yesterday in Shanghai, I spoke to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, and there on a visit was the businessman who is the head of our homebuilders association in the whole U.S. Just a few weeks ago, we went to California, which has a warm climate like much of China, and we started -- we announced a low-cost housing project for people with modest incomes. And in these houses, they have solar panels that now look like ordinary shingles on the roof and can be produced and sold for very little money, but they save huge amounts of money -- energy. You know, then the power plant can be used to power the country's industry -- if you use it. They have windows which let in more light but keep out more heat and cold. Now, they cost a little more, but over a 10-year period they save huge amounts of energy.

All these things could be jobs for Chinese people coming out of the state-owned enterprises. Someone could come in and start making these solar panels that go on the roof, someone should start making these windows. They have light bulbs that cost, in our country, they cost twice as much, but they last four or five times longer, and they don't emit the same amount of pollution.

And then, finally, in the manufacturing industries, there are whole businesses in America -- like you said, they make money going into these plants and saying, here are 100 things you can do and you will cut your energy use by 20 percent and increase your profits by 20 percent. And in power plants, in our old power plants, as much as 70 percent of the energy that goes in them, as you know, is lost in waste heat. So now we have huge facilities in America being heated and cooled with the waste heat.

I was in a cafe yesterday in Shanghai that had a picture of a famous American basketball player, Michael Jordan. Everybody knows who he is. Almost no one knows that the United Center where he plays basketball is completely heated and powered by waste heat, recovered from the normal electric generating capacity.

So these are things that we would like to work with you on, because these are all mistakes Americans made that we had to go back and undo. But since China is now building new factories, building new power plants, building new homes, selling new cars -- if you can do these things in the proper way the first time, you will have undreamed of efficiencies. And it will help the economy, not hurt it.

So I thank you for what you're doing.

Q I'm from the environmental monitoring station of Guilin City. Mr. President, you are very welcome to visit Guilin. Now I'd like to introduce to you the environmental quality situation in Guilin. Since our efforts in the 1970s, the water quality of the Li River has reached a grade two level of the state, that is the drinking water level. And the urban air quality has reached a grade one level.

We have two problems. One is the acid rain, because Guilin is in the acid rain area. The second problem is that in the atmosphere there's still a lot of dust and smog, so we need to work hard to improve the situation.

In terms of noise, as Guilin is quite an old city and the city proper is quite small, and the roads are quite narrow, so the noise situation is not so good. And of course, today what we hear is the sound of cities, lots of noises.

To improve the environment, the people in Guilin have paid a big price since the 1970s. We have closed down or suspended 27 factories polluting the country. And we have also viewed some sewage treatment plants. So now we now the poisonous elements in the Li Jiang River now cannot be monitored -- that is to say, the level has been reduced to a lower level.

And also with the development of the tourism industry, more and more tourists have come to Guilin. So these tourists have consumed more energy and leave more waste than the local people do. So we are faced with a problem of the treatment of domestic sewage. And through our efforts over these years, some factories have also set a good example. For instance, Legion Beer Brewery -- they have done a good job in treating the waste water. But still some other factories still need to improve the work in this regard.

So I think, Mr. President, your visit to Guilin this time has actually provided us with a good opportunity. We hope that we can enhance the cooperation with American businesses, American science community in this regard. Especially we hope that cooperation can be stepped up in the area of environmental legislation, so that we can further improve our environment, because water and the mountains of Guilin not only belong to Guilin, but also belong to the peoples around the world.

So I'm really honored by your presence and arrival today in Guilin.

THE PRESIDENT: One of the things we find -- I'd like to ask Mr. Kong to talk next and then come back to Mr. Zhou, because I want to pursue this. I think it's a very good thing if one business does the right thing here, but if you don't have legislation, sometimes it can be unfair to one business, because if one business does the right thing and the others don't, then the business that's the most responsible could have a hard time making a profit. But if everyone in the province or country has to do it, then everyone is in the same footing.

I would like to ask two questions. One is, if you were to adopt legislation, say, limiting the discharge of factories into the water and requiring that it be treated, would it be done at the provincial level or the national level? And two, are there funds available from the national government to help communities like Guilin finance sewage treatment centers for the tourists or for the people who live here?

Because 20 years ago in the United States, this was a horrible problem. And I grew up in a little town -- a town not so little, about 35,000 -- that had three lakes. And the lake with the largest number of people living on it and the largest number of tourists was totally polluted. But we could not afford to fix it. But the national government said -- they gave us over time about 65 percent of the cost of it, and we came up with the rest, and we cleaned up the lake. So now the children can swim there. People don't get sick if they ingest the water. But we had to have some help. Where would the laws come from -- provincial or national level? And is there now a fund which helps you with the sewage treatment?

Q Well, we have national legislation for the limit on the discharge. We actually already have six laws in this regard. The first is the general law; that is the environmental protection law. And we also have water pollution control act, noise control act, marine environment law, and the wildlife protection act, and also air quality protection law. So these laws actually are enacted by the national People's Congress. As for the provincial level, we also have our legislations. Actually, these legislation are specific in accordance with the local conditions.

As for the fairness, all the factories are treated as equals. No matter what factory it is, as long as its discharge exceeds the limit imposed by the state, then that factory must be dealt with and penalized.

As for the funding, the central government has given us a lot of help in this regard, because in the past the Li Jiang River once was turned into a seriously polluted river with two colors; one is green, the other is red -- very serious pollution. And since the treatment of the water pollution started the central government has allocated several hundred millions of RMB.

And as for other sources of funding, they mainly come from the taxation or the charges levied from the factories. And actually these fees collected are also returned to the factories to help them to deal with the environmental problem. So actually these are the sources of funding.

Q There is national legislation and the provincial legislation. But basically the provincial legislation is based on the administration and the national legislation.

THE PRESIDENT: It can be more stringent.

Q Can be more stringent. It only can be more stringent.

THE PRESIDENT: But not weaker? That's good, yes.

Q But funds from the central government, basically the investment for the environment basically is the responsibility for the local government, including fees. The central government gave them a little money. It basically is not a common case. The reason is that -- so in this case the central government gave them some money. But basically it was provided by themselves, locally.

THE PRESIDENT: You actually -- you're a lawyer and you helped to write these laws, right? (Laughter.) So what do you think the next step should be? What is the next most important thing to be done?

Q I think the central government should provide some additional funding to local government, is my personal will. And -- (inaudible) -- people they share the same idea. But we have some different ideas from the economic people, from -- (inaudible) -- people. So we still have different views and positions on this issue.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, in our country there is still a big fight over every new step, because there are always people who are afraid that if we take a new step it will hurt the economy. But in the end -- he talked about the tourists --if you want the tourists to come to Guilin, you have to have a clean environment. If you want a stronger economy, you have to produce healthy children. So at some point we have to see these things together.

Q The problem right now is the fee or the penalty is too light.


Q So a lot of our experts suggest to raise the penalty for the polluters.

Q I think the big problem is there is no community involvement. I went to -- I stayed for over two years; I know in the U.S. the enforcement of environmental law is very important, and U.S. EPA and the local government and NGOs. But there are so few NGOs in China -- -- enforcement of the environmental law, just the government's behavior, not the individual. It's a big problem. So how we can supervise or monitor this process? If a company discharged some polluted water in the night, who will know? It's a great problem. I think the enforcement of environmental law by -- (inaudible) -- involvement is most important in China.

THE PRESIDENT: Do you believe -- let me ask you this - do you believe that most ordinary Chinese people believe that the environmental standards should be raised, that they basically support a strong environmental policy?

Q I think this public awareness is still not so strong, so public should be educated, make them know they have a right to that.

THE PRESIDENT: That goes back to what Mr. Liang says about educating the public.

Mr. Kong, why did you clean up your factory if you didn't have to do it?

MR. KONG: Well, as an entrepreneur, I'd like to say something of my views. While the motive of business is to earn money, make profit, there's no doubt about it, but the modern entrepreneurs must have two responsibilities. One is to create wealth; the second is to adopt advanced technology to protect the environment and ecology. So look back at our experience. We are actually a beer brewer and we use the water Li Jiang River and I think this is the best -- one of the best beers in China. And I believe a lot of American tourists have already tasted that.

In the beginning period, the purification process was not very good, our discharge did not reach the level. But at that time, although we made a lot of money, we felt quite guilty because we thought we were kind of destroying the environment. And last year we persuaded our shareholders not to get their dividends, but to just retain the dividends in the company until we set up a discharge treatment plant. And actually after the water is purified and the sewage is processed, the discharge actually can reach or even exceed the state level.

So after that we feel quite happy because we really feel that God has blessed us because we are living in such a beautiful environment. So I think everybody, every citizen in Guilin has the responsibility to protect our environment and the beautiful waters and the mountains. And I believe that only with the environment here being protected can hundreds of millions of tourists come here. But I think the tourists should also come to realize that we local people have also paid a big price for that -- to protect the environment.

On the other hand, I think there's a problem that has not been resolved yet. As Mr. President, you mentioned that environmental protection actually requires the efforts of everybody, every enterprise, every plant. Only in this way can the planet, can the Earth be really preserved well. So we think we really should enhance the public awareness of protecting the environment. If everybody could do a good job in this regard then there will be no problem in the environmental protection. And also in this regard, I think to protect the environment will require a lot of funding and also a lot of risk-taking courage. For instance, my company, we have invested more than 10 million RMB-yuan in environmental projects, but we have not actually gotten any return from that. So we have to explain to our shareholders why we have done this.

And I think in other regard we think that government should also provide some incentives to those factories that have taken these environmental protection measures. For instance, the Guilin government has already subsidized 2 million RMB-yuan to us. So I think, apart from the responsibilities of the general public and also the enterprise, the government should also take some responsibility in this regard.

THE PRESIDENT: I know we have to go out to the program, but I wanted to give every one of you a chance to say -- is there any specific think that you believe that I could do, or the United States could do in partnership with China that would be most helpful to you in what you're trying to achieve? If you were to ask us to go back and work with the Chinese government on one thing that we could do, or with our business people on one thing to be helpful, what would it be?

Q I would like to make a short comment on communications between the two countries. I think before, the communications between the two countries was limited to government circle. So I think today's roundtable is a significant start in history. We have NGOs invited to attend this important event. You know, NGOs in China is so young and so few. This is a big problem. I wish the U.S. to produce 90 minute TV series which is sponsored by U.S. EPA and the U.S. Information Agency about U.S. environmental movement. So I think the most important thing is -- (inaudible) -- and development of -- (inaudible) -- in U.S.

THE PRESIDENT: So you think, for example, if we could arrange to have some of our leaders of our environmental groups come here and meet with citizens like you, you think that would be helpful.

Q Yes, sure, so we can widen the NGOs channel to communication on environmental issue. And what we can do -- my organization is the media business and the grass-roots environmental -- we can provide some opportunity, like we can do something. We have a TV program, weekly TV program on China National Television, for over two years. It's broadcast at 1630 Friday, repeated at lunchtime Saturday. It's a countrywide TV program. We independently produce it for over two years. So we will broadcast in the TV series about environmental protection in the U.S. What we want to do is tell Chinese people, don't copy the mistake made by U.S.

For example, we focused on some environmental-friendly lifestyle. We tell the Chinese people, don't follow some wrong thing, like too many air conditioners and too many private cars, too many one-time use products.

THE PRESIDENT: One-time use, yes. Yes, I agree with that.

Q And by this we educate -- sustainable consumption. So I think this by we not only benefit to Chinese, but also benefit to Americans. If we run more communication projects between the two countries, we will encourage, induce the Americans to pay more attention to advocating sustainable consumption, which will help your sustainable production and the sustainable development.

We are seeking a training center, an NGO training center. Maybe we can authorize something like a training program for enforcement of environmental law. We'll tell the citizens how to sue a company, polluter, and even how to sue the government if they cannot enforce the environmental law. So we can give them more information. I think they are not the resources available in the U.S. to Chinese. And, of course, we can keep this TV series to keep the Chinese people know by media what America is doing, what we should do.

And anyway, I think the communication of the NGOs -- why the NGOs channel is very important. And furthermore, I think that the U.S. comparing with European country and Japan, the U.S. is far behind in providing assistance to China. I think now talking is more than action. I know in China the environmental issue draws more and more attention from Chinese people -- no matter government or NGOs. So I believe that there will be big environmental movement in China in the near future. If Americans don't want to give up this good opportunity, economically, politically, and environmentally, you have to take action now.

THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. (Applause.) Give that speech to the Congress. Unfortunately, all the people here from my Congress agree with you, but we believe that the U.S. Congress does not give enough aid in these areas. And I think it is a huge mistake, and I'm always trying to get more. So I will take what you said and publish it widely when we get home.

You raised another issue that I think is important. We have this rule of law project with China, and my wife met with some people earlier in the week about this. But what happens when you have these environmental laws and the government has to enforce them is you will always have some honest disputes. And so there has to be some way of resolving them. When our environmental agencies impose regulations, if the companies think they're wrong or unfair or they made a mistake or they think they have a cheaper way to do the same thing, well, they have a way to go into the courts and we examine that. So there has to be -- I agree with you, that will be a part of it.

What else? Anybody else want to say what you think of that? Yes, Mr. Zhou.

Q I have a specific suggestion. I assume maybe you can support us to raise the alliance for an energy efficiency challenge and encourage some big leading American company to be the co-initiator with such voluntary activities to protect environment and to do energy efficiency in China. Thank you.

Q When we try to protect the animals, the monkeys in the province, those people are really poor. And so we have experienced when these people say, you people in Beijing, you live in the houses with heating, electricity, gas, and lighting, and everything. Why should we change? We are moving into your houses and you people come here and live in this forest and see whether you can stop the logging and have a decent life. So I think is basically the rich countries and the poor countries are facing the same problems. But we are facing the problem of we want to develop the economy, but we have so many difficulties here.

THE PRESIDENT: It's an honest problem, too. And in the rural areas in all developed countries, people tend to be poorer. And they have to make their living, they believe, from natural resources. I told you, we had the same problem with the old-growth forests, and we had never handled this very well. So, in 1993 and '94, the Congress adopted a plan that I asked them to adopt to provide extra funds to these communities which were making the money from the logging to try to change the basis of their economy.

To be honest, no one knew whether we could do it or not. We didn't know. We thought we could, but we didn't know. But I can tell you now, five years later, the unemployment rate in all those communities is now lower than it was before we started to protect the trees. So over a five-year period, we were able to do this. And I think it requires a lot of effort and some money and a lot of thought and very good, vigorous local leaders -- you have to have local leaders who have confidence and then people who can change, you know. But I think this can be done.

MS. LIAO: If I could just site a specific interest and topic, my organization is women NGOs and the full-time staff are women. We focus on sustainable consumption and the children's education. We public children's environmental guide. We got grant from U.S. EPA to publish 10,000 volumes of this book. Of course, we need more support to donate to every child in China. Every child in China got this book.


MS. LIAO: Yes. And by my -- my organization views the women is a very important force in environmental movement because women, sooner or later, a mother, they care for the children's future. So whenever we tell women you have to do something or you choose -- (inaudible) -- they say, oh, terrible, terrible, what we can do, we have to protect the children.

So this way, we have many volunteers at my organization of women. And we hold an annual forum on women journalism and the environment. Almost every media organization attended this forum, which was very helpful. We think that, also, women are consumer decision-makers. Women choose environmental-friendly lifestyle, like reduce, recycle -- and reuse. So I would like to, by this chance, I would like to express that hope that we'll promote more cooperation between two countries and women and the environment.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I agree with that. But interestingly enough, as a result of what you're saying -- and that goes back to what Mr. Liang was saying -- I think the more awareness the children have about this, and the more this is taught in school, the better. Because in our country now, I believe that the children are the strongest environmentalists.

You know, when I visit a community in America, suppose I -- next week I have to go to Atlanta, Georgia, when I get back -- very often a group of children will meet me at the airport, and they will bring me letters that the children have written. Sometimes they're six years old, these children. Very young. And I always look over these letters to see what they're writing me about. They ask me questions, and sometimes they're, how do you like being President, or something. But there are more letters from children age 12 and under on the environment than any other subject now, for the last several years.

So when the children begin to ask their parents about this, when they begin to talk about this at dinner, when it becomes a concern for the children, and then when the mothers are concerned about their health, I think it can change a country. No American official can talk to any group of schoolchildren for 10 minutes without being asked about the environment. It's an amazing thing. The children are sort of out there.

Well, I suppose we better go do the program, but this is very helpful. And we have taken careful note of what you have all said, and we will try to follow up. And I admire you all very much, and I thank you for what you're doing. It will help not only the Chinese people, but all the rest of us as well. Thank you. (Applause.)

China Trip Speeches - July 2, 1998

Remarks on the Environment with Chinese Environmental Specialists

President Clinton Speaks About Environmental Issues in Guilin

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E