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Post-pollution business opportunities embarrass rising China

By Gui Tao (Xinhua)

14:35, January 26, 2013

BEIJING, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Smart Chinese businessmen have secured another odd business opportunity -- selling facemasks and air purifiers as large swathes of the country have been shrouded in lingering hazardous smog.

Pharmacies and online shops started displaying various facemasks that were were once piled high in their dusty warehouses, claiming that they are specially designed to filter the notorious PM2.5 lung-penetrating airborne matter.

Stocks related to environmental protection surged as China's urban air quality kept deteriorating.

Chinese businessmen seem extremely talented when it comes to cashing in on almost every national scandal and crisis.

They managed to make a fortune by marketing self-claimed "gutter oil test paper" after the recycled cooking oil disgusted the country. They also made money selling all kinds of water purifiers and imported milk powders after China's polluted tap water and infant milk formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine raised widespread safety concerns.

All such strange business opportunities embarrass the world's second-largest economy as it strives to address emerging social problems, especially pollution and food safety, to make its growth more sustainable.

It can never be a "moderately prosperous society" nor "beautiful China," both depicted by the blueprint of the ruling Communist Party of China, as long as its citizens have to queue for updated products designed for survival amid the latest environmental and food hazards.

The opportunity seekers are not to blame for having a good nose for business. Supply only meets demand.

These business opportunities reflect common people's efforts to save themselves when the government can not.

But both government and citizens should realize that these facemasks and purifiers are definitely not the final solution, although they can relieve the pain temporarily.

Government officials tasked with cutting pollution and monitoring food safety should feel abashed and have a sense of urgency. The success of the odd products only proves their impotence.

Citizens, with strong health consciousness and purchasing power, should reflect on what they can do, besides strapping on masks, to make a change. What if the same wisdom that is exploiting business opportunities left in the wake of environmental disasters were pooled to address the challenges?

Since every victim of the ongoing smog crisis could at the same time be one of the reasons behind it, the public should turn their attention to frequent use of public transport and nurturing the environmental awareness of their children. Both may provide a ray of hope.

Facemasks are likely to be popular gifts for the upcoming Spring Festival and Valentines'day. But they should also be sources of embarrassment for the whole country.

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