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Ningbo protest, response both typical of China’s environmental debate

By Patti Waldmeir, Leslie Hook and Jamil Anderlini | Financial Times, Monday, October 29, 8:34 PM

NINGBO, China — Environmental protesters in the city of Ningbo, scene of violent weekend demonstrations, went back to work on Monday after the local government made a carefully calculated concession designed to defuse unrest over plans to expand a petrochemical complex.

The Ningbo government took a leaf from the same book as other Chinese cities when faced with protesters whose demands are environmental rather than broadly political: it announced a halt to plans to build a paraxylene facility at a petrochemical plant owned by a subsidiary of Sinopec, China’s biggest oil refiner, in the Zhenhai seaside area near Ningbo.

That concession largely emptied the streets of demonstrators in the eastern port city, leaving only small groups of curious onlookers outside the Ningbo government offices, where a large police presence prevented crowds from forming.

At the Zhenhai chemical industrial area, where a foul odor hung in the air, a handful of angry young men manned a makeshift barricade complaining that the local government had never followed through on a 10-year-old promise to pay a subsidy to local residents because of pollution.

“It’s too smelly here,” says a young man wearing a white face mask over his nose and mouth. “We are here to protect people’s rights,” he says, declining to give his name. His complaint is only tangential to the main protest about the paraxylene plant, but it highlights how unhappiness over an environmental issue can easily spark broader grievances about issues like inequality of income.

The mood in Ningbo highlights a big challenge facing China’s incoming leaders who are set to take power next month: Chinese are more and more willing to take their grievances to the street, particularly for pollution-related issues.

“The time bomb has already been planted,” says Li Bo, environmental activist and board member of Friends of Nature, a Chinese advocacy group. The pollution that has accumulated during China’s decades of rapid growth is now extremely costly and difficult to manage, he says, and environmental concerns are rising.

When Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao came into office a decade ago, one of the first big domestic crises they faced was a toxic chemical spill on the Songhua river in northern China that contaminated the water supply for millions of people. Since then environmental disasters – and related public protests – have continued.

As a result Wen and Hu have put environmental protection higher on the agenda than any of their predecessors. But environmental degradation has worsened under their watch and remains one of the key sources of social instability.

“The problem is we still have an opaque environmental decision-making system that is not really open to the public,” says Ma Jun, an environment expert and head of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs.

Even the humble chemical paraxylene, or PX, the chemical feedstock that was at the centre of the Ningbo protests, has set off multiple large-scale protests across the country.

In 2007, demonstrations against a PX plant in Xiamen succeeded in halting construction there. In 2011, more than 10,000 protesters in Dalian gathered to demand the closure of a PX facility, eliciting a promise from the mayor that he would shut it down.

But local governments do not always follow through on such promises: when the Financial Times visited the PX plant in Dalian, which is owned by Dalian government-backed Dalian Fujia Petrochemical, in June this year, workers, security guards and outside suppliers all said that far from shutting down production the plant had been expanded and was hiring new workers. One western executive of a big petrochemical company in China said the Dalian plant had not stopped production.

The Dalian government and Dalian Fujia Petrochemical declined to comment when asked whether the Dalian plant was still running and why the government had not followed through on its promise to shut it down.

— Financial Times

Yan Zhang contributed to this story.

Chinese protest factory even after official pledge

By GILLIAN WONG, Associated Press – 19 hours ago

NINGBO, China (AP) — After three days of protests by thousands of citizens over pollution fears, a local Chinese government relented and agreed that a petrochemical factory would not be expanded, only to see the protests persist.

The standoff in the prosperous city of Ningbo has highlighted the deep mistrust between people and the government in China. Should they last longer, the demonstrations would upset an atmosphere of calm that Chinese leaders want for a transfer of power in the Communist Party leadership next month.

The protest, which started sporadically last week, swelled over the weekend and led to clashes between citizens and police. The Ningbo city government announced Sunday evening that they and the project’s investor — the state-owned petrochemical behemoth Sinopec — had “resolutely” agreed not to go ahead with the expansion.

Outside the government offices where crowds of protesters stayed, an official tried to read the statement on a loudspeaker but was drowned out by shouts demanding the mayor step down. On the third attempt, the crowd briefly cheered but then turned back to demanding that authorities release protesters detained earlier and believed to be held inside. Though the crowd dissipated late Sunday, about 200 people returned again Monday morning.

“There is very little public confidence in the government,” 24-year-old protester Liu Li said Sunday. “Who knows if they are saying this just to make us leave and then keep on doing the project.”

Protesters returned again Monday morning, though the crowd was smaller, about 200 people, and was comprised mainly of older people. Police channeled the protesters away from the front of the modest government building off to a side street, and plainclothes officers mingled in the crowd.

The city government was likely under great pressure to defuse the protest with China’s leadership wanting calm for the party congress that starts Nov. 8. It was unclear whether local authorities will ultimately cancel the petrochemical project or continue it when the pressure is lower.

Hundreds of people outside the government offices refused to budge despite being urged to leave by officials. Riot police with helmets and shields came out of the government compound and pushed the crowd back. Some people including families ran away. Police dragged six men and one woman into the compound, beating and kicking at least three of them. Police also smashed placards and took away flags.

The crowd roared for the protesters’ release. Police also briefly detained a correspondent from the British television network ITN.

The demonstration in wealthy Zhejiang province is the latest this year over fears of health risks and declining property values from industrial projects, as Chinese who have seen their living standards improve become more outspoken against environmentally risky projects in their areas. A senior adviser to the Environment Ministry told legislators on Friday that the number of protests over environmental issues has increased nearly 30 percent a year for the past 15 years and that they had been getting larger, according to state media.

“The government hides information from the people. They are only interested in scoring political points and making money,” said one protester, Luo Luan. “They don’t care about destroying the environment or damaging people’s lives.”

The protests began a few days earlier in the coastal district of Zhenhai, site of the Sinopec Zhenhai Refining & Chemical Co. factory, which state media has described as an $8.9 billion complex to produce oil and ethylene. On Saturday they swelled and spread to the center of Ningbo city, whose officials oversee Zhenhai.

Residents reported that Saturday’s protests involved thousands of people and turned violent after authorities used tear gas and arrested participants.

Authorities said “a few” people disrupted public order by staging sit-ins, unfurling banners, distributing fliers and obstructing roads.

Early Sunday, thousands of residents began gathering outside the offices of the municipal government. Hundreds marched away from the offices in an apparent effort to round up more support along nearby shopping streets. Police diverted traffic to allow them to pass down a main road.

The crowds in Ningbo are a slice of China’s rising middle class that poses an increasingly boisterous challenge to the country’s incoming leadership: Armed with expensive smartphones, Internet connectivity and higher expectations than the generations before them, their impatience with the government’s customary lack of response is palpable.

A 30-year-old woman surnamed Wang said officers took her to a police station Saturday and made her sign a guarantee that she would not participate in any more protests, but she came back Sunday anyway.

“They won’t even let us sing the national anthem,” Wang said. “They kept asking me who the leader of the protests was and I said that this is all voluntary. We have no leader.”

In a sign that censors were at work, the name “Zhenhai” was blocked on China’s popular microblogging site Sina Weibo.

Protester Yu Yibing said he wanted the factory to be closed and his 7-year-old son to grow up in a clean environment.

“As the common people, we need to live in a green environment. This is a reasonable request,” Yu said. “But the government only puts out some statement and refuses to see us and also suppresses us. I don’t know how else we can express our views.”

The Zhenhai district government said in a short statement on its website Sunday evening that the project wouldn’t go ahead and that refining at the factory would stop for the time being while a scientific review is conducted.

Past environmental protests have targeted a waste-water pipeline in eastern China and a copper plant in west-central China. A week ago, hundreds protested for several days in a small town on China’s Hainan island over a coal-fired power plant.

Associated Press writer Louise Watt and researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.

Title : China protesters wary after chemical plant victory
By :
Date : 29 October 2012 1748 hrs (SST)
URL : http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1234117/1/.html 

NINGBO, China: Protesters who forced a Chinese city to halt work on a new chemical plant massed outside government offices Monday in a wary response to a victory which highlighted the country’s growing environmental activism.

Authorities in Ningbo city said Sunday that work on the 55.9-billion-yuan ($8.9 billion) oil refining and petrochemical complex would stop after thousands of local residents clashed with police in a week-long protest.

The demonstrations and apparent victory of local residents are the latest example of unrest stemming from public anger over pollution created by decades of rapid development.

But despite the government promise to halt the new plant of Chinese energy giant Sinopec, some Ningbo residents Monday stressed they had no faith in public officials and the city might try to revive the project.

“The government’s resolution (to halt the factory) is the initial victory we achieved, but the government lacks the public’s trust so this decision cannot be believed,” a protester told AFP by telephone, asking not to be named.

He added up to 200 people gathered outside Ningbo city government offices on Monday morning, smaller than on Sunday when they numbered in their thousands.

“The situation was relatively stable (Monday),” he said.

Police later sought to disperse them even though the gathering was peaceful, according to an AFP journalist who was briefly detained by police. Protesters had left by late afternoon.

Protests were also reported in Zhenhai, the proposed site for the factory, despite a heightened security presence.

“Unfortunately, it is perhaps just a stalling tactic… the government felt pressure and was eager to wind this matter up, so there’s no victory for us,” said Ningbo resident Sha Shi Di Sao Zi on a microblog.

The rallies came ahead of a once-in-a-decade Communist Party congress starting November 8 at which new leaders will be selected. Ahead of the delicate handover, authorities are keen to present a show of harmony.

An editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper Monday said a rising number of environmental-related protests showed the “obsession” of local officials with economic development had to be changed.

“Too many local governments are still preoccupied with gross domestic product,” it said.

“Some local leaders still need to acquaint themselves with the notion that residents’ rights to a healthy environment must be adequately respected.”

In July, thousands of people demonstrated over fears of pollution from a sewage pipeline at a Japanese-owned paper factory in eastern China, dispersing after local authorities pledged to cancel the project.

Earlier this year in the southwestern province of Sichuan, hundreds clashed with police over a planned metals plant in Shifang city. They also forced the project to be scrapped.

Ningbo’s Zhenhai district said Sunday it would “ban” production of paraxylene (PX), a petrochemical used for plastic bottles which had been the focus of health fears.

The statement admitted for the first time that PX, which has been linked in some studies to a wide range of human health problems for those facing extended exposure, was going to be produced at the site.

“As the environmental awareness of the people has been rising, the number of similar cases recently and the scale of such incidents have rarely been seen in the past,” the head of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, Ma Jun, told AFP.

“But the current decision-making mechanism, which allows a few government officials, developers and experts to make the decisions, has not introduced public consultation,” said Ma.

An editorial in another state-run newspaper, the Global Times, urged the government to set up a more transparent system for approving projects but said the fate of industrial plants should not be decided by protests.

“Some claim the people in Ningbo scored a victory,” said the newspaper, known for its nationalistic stance.

“But we hold that when deciding a heavy chemical project through such protests, there is no winner, but the whole country loses.”

“But we hold that when deciding a heavy chemical project through such protests, there is no winner, but the whole country loses.”

-AFP/ac

29 October 2012 Last updated at 04:09

China morning round-up: Ningbo factory plan protest

People chant slogans as they march during a protest against plans to expand a petrochemical plant in Ningbo, China, 28 Oct 2012P
papers note an increase in environmental protests ahead of the leadership change

Newspapers comment on protests in Zhejiang’s Ningbo city which forced the local government to shelve a plan to expand a petrochemical plant.

China Daily’s editorial says: “The rapid rise in the number of environmental protests points to two conflicting tendencies: citizens’ awakening environmental awareness and some local authorities’ obsession with economic growth, even if it comes at the cost of the environment.”

“Too many local governments are still preoccupied with gross domestic product; the concern residents have demonstrated about the downsides of this preoccupation should serve as a reminder that the quality of growth is more important than quantity.”

The Global Times’ bilingual editorial says: “Some claim the people in Ningbo scored a victory. But we hold that when deciding a heavy chemical project through such protests, there is no winner but the whole country loses.”

“It’s comforting that the protests this time were resolved in a relatively peaceful manner, which demonstrates that both officials and the public have come a long way. But the inadequate communication and the absence of effective interaction between the two reveals that in many places, local governments are often at a loss on what to do when facing a major public crisis.”

However, not many Chinese-language newspapers other than Ningbo Daily are reporting the government’s decision to back down.

Also on Monday, People’s Daily reports on its front page that a press centre serving journalists covering the Communist Party congress will open its doors on 1 November – a sign preparations for the major political event are in full swing.

The Global Times says passengers have discovered some of Beijing’s taxis have their windows locked, which the paper believes is a security measure implemented ahead of the party congress.

“Some passengers had thrown leaflets out of the taxi window, or inserted leaflets into ping-pong balls and threw them out, or would let go of a balloon which had leaflets tied to it,” the paper quoted a taxi driver as saying.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and Sing Tao Dailyreport Premier Wen Jiabao visited an exhibition in Beijing on Friday, with photos showing Mr Wen’s big smile.

Sing Tao Daily says the big smile seems to show that Mr Wen has not been affected by claims in the New York Times that his family has amassed hidden riches.

Commenting on a statement from Mr Wen’s family, South China Morning Post says: “The unprecedented statement… was a chance for the leadership to tackle corruption that lies at the heart of the Communist Party’s legitimacy crisis, political analysts say.”

“Wen should seize the opportunity to disclose his own and his relatives’ assets, setting an example for other leaders, which would give a boost to long-stalled efforts to pass ‘sunshine laws’ obliging senior officials to declare their assets,” the Post quoted the analysts as saying.

State media does not appear to have reported the Times’ story.

Newspapers also report more personnel reshuffles in the armed forces ahead of the party congress.

The Global Times says the paramilitary police command of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps – a special economic and semi-military administration in the Xinjiang region – has been upgraded to a deputy corps command.

Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily says a new head for the Tibet paramilitary police force has also been named, while a few command heads of provincial and regional paramilitary police have been renamed commanders.

China Daily and People’s Daily report a radio telescope said to be the biggest in Asia was unveiled in Shanghai on Sunday.

The Global Times and Shanghai Daily say the telescope will be fully operational in 2013. It will assist the flights of Chang’e 3 – China’s next moon exploration programme.

China: Journalists Dragged Away From Protest

A Sky News team reporting on a pollution protest in China is manhandled and dragged away from the scene by officials.

2:11pm UK, Monday 29 October 2012

A Sky News team were among journalists who were “violently” stopped from reporting on an environmental pollution protest in China.

Sky News cameraman Andy Portch was attacked by plain-clothed men as they tried to prevent him filming a protest over expansion plans for a petro-chemical plant in Ningbo, Zhejiang province.

Police sought to disperse hundreds of people outside the Ningbo city government offices, including an AFP journalist who was briefly detained by police.

Sky’s Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lisa Holland was among a crowd when an official tried to stop her reporting on the demonstration.

Thousands marched through the city over the weekend, clashing with police at times – eventually forcing the government to halt the expansion plan on Sunday. But people still gathered outside government offices on Monday to ensure the politicians kept their word.

Holland said: “We were pushed and dragged down a flight of steps and our cameraman Andy Portch was kicked in the back of his calves as plain-clothed thugs tried to wrestle the camera from him.”

He is heard on camera saying: “What are you doing? You can’t beat me up like this. Stop beating me up.”

During the commotion, one protester shouted: “Don’t hit them, don’t beat them.”

A man holding a baby told police not to threaten them, saying: “You are bullying the Chinese people. We have to rely on foreigners to come and help us.”

Oil China
An environmental protest takes place in Ningbo

The Sky team was then marched away by riot police to roars by the crowd and threatened with arrest before being bundled away in a taxi.

The crowd took pictures of the whole episode and uploaded them onto Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

People are using the powerful social media tool to highlight local disputes and controversial protests that never get reported by the state media.

Holland said: “As the authorities tried to prevent us filming the event – the crowds were taking pictures of the whole episode and busily uploading them onto Weibo – their version of Twitter.

“It’s Twitter, but not as people know it outside China. That’s because China’s population of 1.3 billion play a clever game of cat and mouse posting about the issues that matter to them, but not using specific words which will get their messages blanked out by the censors.

“The messages speak in riddles –  a language of Weibo has developed as users read between the lines, but clearly understand each other.

“Through brute force the authorities tried to remove us from the story. But they just aren’t quick enough to stop Weibo and its messages and images. It’s a constant flow of information which is simply overloading the censors.

“China is moving into a power transition when it gets a new set of leaders in the next few weeks. Instability and unrest fills the ruling Communist Party with fear – and Weibo is fuelling that.”

China protesters wary despite win on plant

  • BY:BY PETER PARKS 
  • From:AAP 
  • October 29, 2012 9:20PM
  • Thousands of protesters have stopped the expansion of a petrochemical plant in China. Source: AAP

PROTESTERS who forced a Chinese city to halt work on a new chemical plant have massed outside government offices in a wary response to a victory that highlighted the country’s growing environmental activism.

Authorities in Ningbo city said on Sunday that work on the 55.9-billion-yuan ($A8.63 billion) oil refining and petrochemical complex would stop after thousands of local residents clashed with police in a week-long protest.

The demonstrations and apparent victory of local residents are the latest example of unrest stemming from public anger over pollution created by decades of rapid development.

But despite the government promise to halt the new plant of Chinese energy giant Sinopec, some Ningbo residents on Monday stressed they had no faith in public officials and the city might try to revive the project.

“The government’s resolution (to halt the factory) is the initial victory we achieved, but the government lacks the public’s trust so this decision cannot be believed,” a protester told AFP by telephone, asking not to be named.

He added up to 200 people gathered outside Ningbo city government offices on Monday morning, smaller than on Sunday when they numbered in their thousands.

“The situation was relatively stable (on Monday),” he said.

Police later sought to disperse them even though the gathering was peaceful, according to an AFP journalist who was briefly detained by police. Protesters had left by late afternoon.

Protests were also reported in Zhenhai, the proposed site for the factory, despite a heightened security presence.

“Unfortunately, it is perhaps just a stalling tactic … the government felt pressure and was eager to wind this matter up, so there’s no victory for us,” said Ningbo resident Sha Shi Di Sao Zi on a microblog.

The rallies came ahead of a once-in-a-decade Communist Party congress starting November 8 at which new leaders will be selected. Ahead of the delicate handover, authorities are keen to present a show of harmony.

An editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper on Monday said a rising number of environmental-related protests showed the “obsession” of local officials with economic development had to be changed.

“Too many local governments are still preoccupied with gross domestic product,” it said.

“Some local leaders still need to acquaint themselves with the notion that residents’ rights to a healthy environment must be adequately respected.”

In July, thousands of people demonstrated over fears of pollution from a sewage pipeline at a Japanese-owned paper factory in eastern China, dispersing after local authorities pledged to cancel the project.

Earlier this year in the southwestern province of Sichuan, hundreds clashed with police over a planned metals plant in Shifang city. They also forced the project to be scrapped.

Ningbo’s Zhenhai district said on Sunday it would “ban” production of paraxylene (PX), a petrochemical used for plastic bottles which had been the focus of health fears.

The statement admitted for the first time that PX, which has been linked in some studies to a wide range of human health problems for those facing extended exposure, was going to be produced at the site.

“As the environmental awareness of the people has been rising, the number of similar cases recently and the scale of such incidents have rarely been seen in the past,” the head of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, Ma Jun, told AFP.

“But the current decision-making mechanism, which allows a few government officials, developers and experts to make the decisions, has not introduced public consultation,” said Ma.

An editorial in another state-run newspaper, the Global Times, urged the government to set up a more transparent system for approving projects but said the fate of industrial plants should not be decided by protests.

“Some claim the people in Ningbo scored a victory,” said the newspaper, known for its nationalistic stance.

“But we hold that when deciding a heavy chemical project through such protests, there is no winner, but the whole country loses.”

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Chinese factory plan ditched after protests

Eastern city of Ningbo halts work to expand petrochemical complex after week of protests over environmental impact

  • Agencies in Ningbo
  • guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 October 2012 17.13 GMT
Ningbo

A ceremony to inaugurate a new bridge in Ningbo in 2008. Residents are worried over the environmental impact of expansion plans. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The eastern Chinese city of Ningbo has cancelled plans to expand a petrochemical complex following a week of sometimes-violent protests sparked by concerns over the environmental impact, state media has reported.

A spokesman for Ningbo city government said in a statement carried by the officialChina News Service that no further work would be carried out on the project in Zhenhai district pending further “scientific debate”.

Protests in the eastern city, had swelled over the weekend and led to clashes between citizens and police. The Ningbo city government said in a statement on Sunday evening that they and the project’s investor had “resolutely” agreed not to go ahead with the expansion.

The factory is a subsidiary of Sinopec, one of world’s the biggest petrochemical companies.

Outside government offices an official tried to read the statement on a loudspeaker but was drowned out by protesters demanding the resignation of the mayor and the release of demonstrators being held inside.

Liu Li, 24, a Ningbo resident, said the crowd did not believe the government’s statement. “There is very little public confidence in the government,” she said. “Who knows if they are saying this just to make us leave and then keep on doing the project?”

The city government was likely to be under pressure to defuse the protest with China’s leadership wanting calm for next month’s party congress. It was unclear whether local authorities will ultimately cancel the petrochemical project or continue it when the pressure is lower.

Hundreds of people outside the government offices refused to disperse despite being urged to leave by officials. Riot police with helmets and shields pushed the crowd back. Six men and one woman were dragged into the compound by police, who beat and kicked at least three of them. Police also smashed placards and took away flags.The demonstration in wealthy Zhejiang province is the latest this year over fears of health risks from industrial projects, as Chinese who have become more outspoken against environmentally risky projects in their areas despite improvements in their living standards.

“The government hides information from the people. They are only interested in scoring political points and making money,” said one protester, Luo Luan. “They don’t care about destroying the environment or damaging people’s lives.”

The protests began a few days earlier in the coastal district of Zhenhai, where the petrochemical factory is located. On Saturday, they swelled and spread to the centreof Ningbo city, whose officials oversee Zhenhai.

Residents reported that Saturday’s protests involved thousands of people and turned violent after authorities used tear gas and arrested participants.

Authorities said “a few” people had disrupted public order by staging sit-ins, unfurling banners, distributing fliers and obstructing roads.

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