China gives bleak assessment of its battered environment
"These heavy metal pollution incidents not only seriously threaten people's health, they affect social stability, and it ought to be said this is a rather severe issue," Li said.
The world's top consumer and producer of lead, China has struggled to rein in polluting industry under lax environmental regulations. Lead-poisoning, especially in children, has roused public anger and resulted in sometimes violent protests.
Unhappiness over the environment in China encompasses a broad range of other areas though.
Last month, the vast northern region of Inner Mongolia was hit by sporadic demonstrations by ethnic Mongolians infuriated by the damage caused to traditional grazing lands, unrest set off by the death of a herder under the wheels of a coal truck.
The government has since begun a month-long crackdown on the coal industry and vowed to "leave no stone unturned" in their probe into mines which damage the environment or seriously affect residents. [ID:nL3E7H11QT]
"As for that incident, I know that relevant departments are currently proactively and appropriately dealing with it. The situation has basically calmed down," Li said, when asked about the protests.
"The Environment Ministry will be paying close attention, and will give help, support, supervision and guidance" to the probe into the environmental problems of coal mines in Inner Mongolia, he added.
But in a comment underscoring the challenge China faces to balance protection of the environment with the need for economic growth, Li said it was important not to demonize the resource extraction sector.
"In places like Inner Mongolia, with their rich natural and mineral resources, their exploitation over the past few years has certainly had a great effect on local economic development and the improvement of people's livelihoods." (Editing by Sugita Katyal)
© Thomson Reuters 2014 All rights reserved