Law is harsher than criticism

The oil leak in Bohai Bay has lasted for two months. Bathing in overdue and lame information released by Concon Phillips (COPC), the public and neighbouring nations’ concerns over the pollution soar, pressing the parties to solve the problem as soon as possible. But many questions in legislation and evaluation have not been answered yet.

According to Marine Environment Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China, which was revised in 1999, the maximum fine for pollution caused by off-shore oil exploration is 200,000 yuan. SOA indicated in early July this was the only legal basis to enforce economic punishment on the operator COPC now. 

As COPC newly reported more than 1500 barrels of oil has been spilled affecting 3,400 square kilometers of sea area, which is much worse than the scenario reported in early July by SOA. The SOA’s rare harsh criticism of COPC in early August is the latest concrete prelude probably leading to legal claim for much heavier indemnity. The amount of leaked oil and the damage it caused to the environment are two crucial factors to fix scale of the indemnity. 

The 90th article of the protection law also stipulates SOA is entitled to represent the country to claim indemnity from COPC. It is urgent for SOA to immediately organize or entrust a third party to carry out credible scientific research project to evaluate the oil leak’s environmental implications and the costs in material and time to restore the marine condition.  

Meanwhile, it is good opportunity to revise the marine environmental protection law now to keep relative legislature abreast with the country’s aggressive pursuit into the sea. SOA should take the chance to build up clear-cut system to coordinate civil and state litigation caused by marine environmental disasters together, for it is quite difficult for individual fisherman to obtain evidence and charge COPC.

All of the expected efforts in lawmaking, scientific evaluation and designing litigation system should be carried out in reference to international conventions, because marine troubles usually involve parties from different countries. Only when China has fully developed its marine legislature system and supervision departments, can the oversea operators follows the international conventions in dealing with environmental disasters.

As the world largest foreign investment market, China has experienced different stages of attracting foreign companies during the past 30 years. Concessional terms were common in all kinds of policies, regulations and even laws at first to introduce foreign capital and advanced technologies. 

China should no longer compromise its environment, natural resources, labour force, low taxes and legal systems any more to introduce foreign operators. China needs to participate into global market with matured legal system. What really attracts quality investors is not preferential treatments result from a loose legal environment, but a fair and effectively supervised market supported by well-designed and observed laws.

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