Might a Looming Water Crisis in Northern China Derail China's Economic Growth?

Speaker: Mr Charles Parton, The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)


Twelve provinces in northern China suffer from water scarcity or acute water scarcity.  Around a thousand rivers, a year has disappeared over the last quarter of a century.  While the Chinese Communist Party has put considerable resources into combatting water pollution, that will not make a significant difference.  Nor will water transfers, including the famed South-North Water Transfer Project, or desalination.  The biggest problems come on the demand side and involve a number of politically sensitive measures, which will test the resilience of the CCP's governance model.   In March this year, the Party put out a water conservation plan for the 'Jinjinji' region (Beijing, Tianjin Hebei), which is one of the hardest hit.  This 'experimental zone' will garner lessons for the wider north of China.  But time is running out.  Charles Parton will assess the scale of the problems, look at the measures which Beijing needs to adopt, and assess whether the CCP's interests and governance model will allow it to avoid severe economic dislocation.


Charles Parton OBE is a Senior Associate Fellow at RUSI. He spent 22 years of his 37 year diplomatic career working in or on China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In his final posting he was seconded to the EU Delegation in Beijing, where, as First Counsellor until late 2016, he focussed on Chinese politics and internal developments, and advised the EU and Member States on how China’s politics might affect their interests. He has also worked in Afghanistan, Cyprus, Libya and Mali. In 2017 he set up his own consultancy, China Ink, and was chosen as the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Special Adviser on China; he returned to Beijing for 4 months as Adviser to the British Embassy to cover the Communist Party’s 19th Congress. He is a trustee of Chinadialogue, an NGO which focuses on China’s environmental issues.