BEIJING - China's environment ministry has pledged to keep up the pressure on businesses that pollute the environment, even as the country deals with its slowest economic growth in decades.
Its Environment Minister Li Ganjie said on Monday (March 11) that local government officials that ease the enforcement of environmental regulations for "temporary gain" will be punished.
"If we find any local officials... sacrificing protecting the environment for economic development, we will not let them off, they will be held accountable. We are very clear on this," said Mr Li at a press conference held on the sidelines of the country's annual legislative meetings in Beijing.
His comments reiterate those of Chinese President Xi Jinping last week.
Mr Xi had told a meeting of lawmakers from the Inner Mongolia region that economic development should not come at the expense of the environment.
Mr Li is the latest Chinese official to comment publicly on growing concern that China may cut back efforts to curb pollution as businesses feel the slowing economy biting and eroding the gains they made in recent years.
China is in its sixth year of war against pollution. Its efforts have so far yielded some results: Mr Li, listing improvements in environmental indicators, noted that last year the country cut concentrations of PM2.5 pollutants by an average of 9.3 per cent in 338 cities.
Combating pollution is one of China's three "critical battles" and a key part of the country's drive to build a "moderately prosperous society". The other two battles are alleviating poverty and controlling financial risks.
Mr Li said China's macroeconomic and fiscal policies support continued protection of the environment, and noted that the Finance Ministry has budgeted 60 billion yuan for fighting pollution in 2019, a 35.9 per cent increase from the previous year.
Pursuing high quality development also supports environmental goals. What was needed was a more nuanced approach to fighting pollution, he said.
Instead of adopting a "one size fits all" approach and shutting down polluting factories immediately, Mr Li said authorities would help businesses address their issues with meeting environmental goals and give them more time to do so.
"We will think of more ways to help businesses solve the problems they face, and push them towards green and high quality development," he added.