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Chinese City Halts Plant’s Waste Project After Thousands Protest
By Bloomberg News on July 29, 2012
Authorities in eastern China scrapped plans to build a waste pipeline from a paper mill run by Japan’s Oji Paper Co. after opposition from local residents mounted and a protest turned violent.
Thousands of people gathered in Qidong, a coastal city of more than 1 million people across the Yangtze River from Shanghai, to renew protests against a project they say will pollute the sea, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. Demonstrators dispersed after the mayor of Nantong, a city that administers Qidong, announced in a live televised broadcast that the project would be permanently halted, Xinhua said.
The demonstration is the latest in a series of confrontations between local governments and residents over pollution concerns linked to industrial projects. Thousands of people in the southwestern city of Shifang protested for three days earlier this month over the construction of a molybdenum copper plant, and demonstrators in northeast China’s Dalian last year succeeded in getting a chemical factory shuttered on environmental grounds, according to reports by state media.
The Qidong protests “demonstrate that ordinary people’s awareness of their rights has increased and they are more willing to assert their rights,” Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said in a telephone interview today. “It also demonstrates more sophistication on the part of the authorities in handling protests.”
Strike a Deal
Cases interpreted by the authorities as potentially “anti- party or anti-government” would lead to a crackdown “mercilessly and with a lot of force,” Lam said. “But if a protest is regarded as basically economic and environmental in nature, they are more willing to strike a deal.”
In a speech to leaders and officials of the ruling Communist Party published by Xinhua on July 23, President Hu Jintao noted that people’s demands for a better life and expectations for prompt solutions to prominent social problems were increasing.
About 10,000 Qidong residents joined yesterday’s protest, in which computers, desks and chairs in a government building were damaged, Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported on its newswire. Opponents gathered even after Qidong’s vice mayor, Zhang Jianxin, announced the previous day that the project was suspended and pledged to listen to residents’ concerns.
The Associated Press said some protesters clashed with police and turned a patrol car on its side. Hundreds of officers, some in riot gear, arrived later in the day and took up positions outside government offices, according to the AP report.
Photographs and comments about the demonstrations were posted yesterday morning on Sina Corp. (SINA) (SINA)’s microblogging service Weibo, showing offices of the Qidong government ransacked, police cars overturned and clashes between police and residents. By late afternoon, the material had been removed and didn’t appear in searches for “Qidong.”
The cancellation of the project announced by Nantong’s mayor Zhang Guohua came a day after the Qidong administration said it was suspending construction of the pipeline.
“In the face of people’s suggestions and opinions” the government is “conducting further evaluation and suspending construction of the discharge pipeline,” Zhang said in a letter to residents that he read out in a video posted on the government’s website on July 27.
At the same time, he warned that illegal gatherings and protests threaten the city’s economic development and that the public security bureau will “severely punish” the “small number of criminals who broke the law and gathered to disturb social order.”
Residents had petitioned against construction of the pipeline on the grounds that it would pollute a nearby fishery, the state-owned People’s Daily reported on its website on July 27. Yesterday’s Shanghai Daily said there were also claims that discharge from the mill could pollute Shanghai’s Qingcaosha Reservoir at the mouth of the Yangtze River.
Local residents had voiced concerns on the internet “for years” about environmental damage to the sea around Qidong, one of the country’s four major fishing grounds, Xinhua said in a report datelined yesterday.
The waste discharge pipeline targeted by the protesters was linked to a paper mill operated by an Oji Paper venture. The plant, in the Nantong Economic and Technological Development Zone, involved total investment of $1.95 billion, and was the group’s largest overseas investment, according to Xinhua.
The pipeline is an auxiliary project of the plant and is not carried out by Oji Paper’s joint venture, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement on its Chinese-language website on July 27. The Qidong plant has a “very strict” management system in which water is treated inside the facility before being discharged, the company said.
Protests, strikes and riots are increasing in China amid concerns that the nation’s rapid economic growth is damaging the environment, worsening pollution and encouraging corruption. The growth of the internet and microblogs has made it more difficult for the government to control the spread of information, and has pushed authorities to respond to criticism and demonstrations.
Beijing’s Communist Party Secretary Guo Jinlong said on July 27 the government must “seriously reflect” on the lessons of the recent floods in the capital, after users of microblog services accused the authorities of hiding the death toll and neglecting the city’s outdated sewer systems.
He spoke the same day the government raised to 77 from an initial 37 its estimate of the number of people who died in Beijing’s record July 21 rainstorms.
The authority’s slowness “left the general public enraged and perplexed,” Xinhua said in a commentary.
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: William Bi in Beijing at firstname.lastname@example.org