Wednesday, November 19, 2003

What? Isn't China scared about destroying their economy?

GUANGZHOU, China, Nov. 17 — The Chinese government is preparing to impose minimum fuel economy standards on new cars for the first time, and the rules will be significantly more stringent than those in the United States, according to Chinese experts involved in drafting them.

The new standards are intended both to save energy and to force automakers to introduce the latest hybrid engines and other technology in China, in hopes of easing the nation's swiftly rising dependence on oil imports from volatile countries in the Middle East.

Doesn't sound like it. Maybe they think that higher paid jobs will accompany cutting edge manufacturing. Why else could they be trying a crazy tree hugger stunt like this?

But Zhang Jianwei, the vice president and top technical official of the Chinese agency that writes vehicle standards, said in a telephone interview on Monday that energy security was the paramount concern in drafting the new automotive fuel economy rules, and that global warming had received little attention.

"China has become an important importer of oil so it has to have regulations to save energy," said Mr. Zhang, who is also deputy secretary of the 39-member interagency committee that approved the rules at a meeting this month.

China was a net oil exporter until a decade ago, but its output has not kept up with soaring demand. It now depends on imports of oil for one-third of its needs, mainly from Saudi Arabia and Angola. Before the war, Iraq was also an important supplier. By comparison, the United States now imports about 55 percent of the oil it uses.

We've all heard about the importance of connections and bribes in China. I wonder how lobbyists will use them on this?

But Mr. Zhang said that the rules in draft form were the product of a very strong consensus among government agencies and that "the technical content won't be changed."

Two executives at Volkswagen, the largest foreign automaker in China, said that representatives of their company and of domestic Chinese automakers attended what they described as the final interagency meeting to approve the rules. Under pressure from the government, these auto industry representatives agreed to the new rules despite misgivings, the executives said. "They had no choice but to agree," one of the Volkswagen executives added.

Well, there was a time when the tail didn't wag the dog in America either.

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