Posted : 2011-07-12 18:05
Updated : 2011-07-12 18:05

Oil spill in China

Beijing ought to show neighborly sincerity

When the enormous tsunami resulted in a meltdown of Japanese nuclear power plants in March, China regretted Tokyo’s reluctance to share information.

The oil spill that is still spreading off China’s northeastern coast may not be comparable with the earthquake-radioactivity double-whammy that hit Japan. Yet the way the Beijing government is handling this environmental mishap is comparable enough with its Japanese counterpart’s; incomprehensible secrecy and neglect of neighbors.

Beijing’s impudent, irresponsible manner is not of course limited to foreigners. Chinese citizens did not know about the leakage for a few weeks until a domestic blogging site first reported it on June 22.

It was last Friday, more than a month after the first spill was detected, that the Chinese government held its first news conference on the incident, saying they have the spill under control by halting the drilling and conducting clean-up operations.

Even the Chinese people do not seem to fully believe their government’s announcement, which said the affected area was 200 square meters one day and then revised it to 840 square kilometers, 1.4 times the area of Seoul, the next day. Officials said the total amount of oil spilled was still being calculated, adding that ``small leaking holes” continued to discharge oil into the ocean.

We rather hope the Chinese authorities would be right about the negligible leakage and oceanic contamination. No one would want to see the West Sea, or the Yellow Sea, turn into a black sea.

What cannot be let go of is the Chinese government’s diplomatic rudeness. The Korean Embassy in Beijing had asked for information on the incident, including what caused the spill and what the estimated damage is, but the Chinese officials have fallen short of providing any details through diplomatic channels, merely calling on Seoul to watch news conferences or saying investigations are still underway.

Beijing has no legal obligation to notify Seoul of the environmental incident if it judges the damage would not spill over to Korean territory. Yet Korea, China and Japan agreed in May to cooperate closely in sharing information to minimize damage from environmental incidents. It would have been far better if the Chinese officials had provided sufficient information to Korea, and leave the judgment on damage and responses to Seoul.

The Chinese government’s behavior comes in stark contrast to their Korean counterparts, who quickly informed Beijing of a similar oil spill off its western coast in 2007, long before the trilateral accord was made.

In this rapidly shrinking world, even disasters, natural or man-made, are global. Beijing’s secrecy may be aimed more at appeasing the domestic sentiments, but that should be no reason to neglect its duty to neighboring countries.

The Korean government, for its part, will need to show a more resolute stance in dealing with neighboring environmental offender. Who can completely rule out the possibility that the ongoing oil spill is a harbinger of a far bigger one?
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