China’s jade- fisted fuel policy

China’s decision could make a push in the United States for higher fuel economy easier.

Environmentalists received a huge push from an unlikely source last week. Belittling concerns from auto manufacturers, China, whose environmental record is among the worst in the world, set fuel-economy standards on sport utility vehicles, vans and new cars.

Tougher fuel-economy standards have been long-time goals in the United States, and China’s decision could make the push for higher fuel economy in the United States easier. If China can set fuel-efficiency standards, surely the United States can do so too.

China’s decision to impose fuel-economy standards stems not from concerns over global warming or asthma rates among city populations, but from the political reality of oil. Oil prices around the world have increased as China has grown. China’s fuel-economy measure is just a beginning of a policy designed to lessen its dependence on foreign oil.

Certainly, China’s dictatorial government and jade-fisted decision-making is not to be admired. In a democracy such as ours, sweeping changes are more difficult to bring about. But at least in this instance, China’s plan will not only benefit the Chinese people but also the rest of the world.

China has done what the United States should have done 15 years ago. When powerful governments make demands on innovation with focused support, progress will be made. The United States has made such demands before during the space race and seatbelt development.

Now, auto manufacturers are faced with developing fuel-economy technology or leaving the lucrative Chinese market. Some manufacturers have already made their decisions and are trying to meet the new standards.

Clearly, the United States must turn the screw tighter and call for tougher fuel-economy standards. Combined with European efforts, auto manufacturers would have little choice other than to improve fuel efficiency. As Russia and the United States during World War II, China and the United States would make for unlikely but potent allies against a global threat.