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Economist Hu Angang

Talking Up the 'Green Cat' Economy


Talking Up the 'Green Cat' Economy


China is preparing to say goodbye to a "black cat" economy and take up the ways of a "green cat." University professor Hu Angang is one of the key figures spearheading the transition.



Talking Up the 'Green Cat' Economy

By Sara Wu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 436 )

On a tour of southern China in 1992, Chinese president Deng Xiaoping left no doubt that China's predominant ideology was economic growth when he said, "It doesn't matter if it's a black cat or a white cat. As long as it catches mice, it's a good cat."

Today, however, China's new left scholars believe the color of the cat is extremely important. Hu Angang, a professor in the School of Public Policy and Management at Beijing's Tsinghua University, has described China's growth over the past two decades as "black cat GDP growth" and says that the emphasis now should be on the "green cat."

Backed by statistical evidence, Hu argues that while China averaged 10.2 percent economic growth from 2001 to 2008, its energy and coal consumption and carbon emissions all skyrocketed. During this period, China became the world's biggest "black cat" – the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide gases – after surpassing the United States.

Known for his vibrant voice and skilled use of easily understandable analogies, Hu is not merely an economist. The Center for China Studies (CCS) he heads at Tsinghua University has developed systematic information and indices to help China achieve its 11th and future 12th five-year plans and weigh a country's "CNP" (comprehensive national power) instead of its GDP (gross domestic product). According to the People's Daily, since 2002, every CCS report has been delivered to the desks of China's leaders, and, in 2005, Hu Angang was named one of the 37 members of the China State Council-approved National 11th Five-year Plan Expert Committee. 

Green Achievements Crucial to Political Success

In his book What Does China Think, Mark Leonard, the executive director of European think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations, described Hu's role at a foreign policy seminar as a metaphor of the country's obsession with "comprehensive national power" as follows:

"China must be the most self-aware rising power in history. It is hard to imagine advisers to Napoleon, Lord Palmerston, Bismarck, or even George Bush drawing up complex charts to rank their own country's economic, political and military power against the competition. But that is precisely what Hu Angang was trying to do in our seminar."

Leonard observes that China's strategic experts have always believed that only be looking at your adversaries' weaknesses can you understand your own strengths.

Through the window in Hu's office at Tsinghua University, one sees beautiful green shade trees. Standing with his back to the window, Hu argues that China should become an innovator and leader of today's green industrial revolution, because its wind power and solar power electricity generating capacity could soon become the biggest of any country in the world.

"I went to Weihai on the easternmost point of the Shandong Peninsula, and I was amazed. Power generating windmills lined the entire coast. It was a spectacular sight," Hu says.

The scholar stresses that new green policies must be more than just a conceptual vision. The 11th five-year plan incorporated eight tangible green indicators and established national goals that can be extended to the local government level. A yearly progress report is issued summarizing the competition between regions.

"To rise in the ranks today, they don't just look at GDP. They also look at the success rate in achieving green indicators," Hu affirms.

Hu Angang will share his views on "green cat" economic development at the CommonWealth Economic Forum in January.

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier

Chinese Version: 中國綠貓經濟 胡鞍鋼領頭