Campaigners in China challenge authorities over environmental impact of planned petrochemical plant

Fears over proposed refinery in southern city of Kunming attracts thousands of protesters

Beijing

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the southern Chinese city of Kunming to voice their fears over the environmental impact of a planned petrochemical plant – highlighting the increasing willingness of the country’s emerging middle class to challenge authorities.

In the second protest this month against the planned plant, more than 2,000 people gathered outside the Yunnan provincial government headquarters to demand greater transparency about the environmental risks the 20 billion yuan (£2bn) facility – which will produce gasoline and petrochemicals such as paraxylene (PX), used in making fabrics and plastic bottles – may pose. “We cherish blue skies and white clouds, as well as good air,” said one Kunming resident at the protest who gave her surname as Liu. “If you want to build a refinery… we resolutely oppose it.”

Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan province, is known as the “spring city” and has one of the most pleasant climates in China. But rapid development in recent years has seen the city transformed into a major metropolis.

The planned petrochemical plant, which would be built about 18 miles outside the city centre, would annually produce 500,000 tonnes of PX, a suspected carcinogen, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper. Local residents fear the plant would pollute the city’s air and water supplies. 

The gathering was largely peaceful, though there were minor scuffles with police. Witnesses said at least two people were briefly detained, although, in a relatively rare show of tolerance, police did not try to intervene to stop the protest. The approach contrasted to another protest against a petrochemical plant earlier this month in the city of Chengdu, when police flooded the streets to prevent the demonstration from going ahead.

In the wake of the first Kunming demonstration on 4 May, local government officials and the powerful state-controlled PetroChina Co (which has proposed the plant), held a series of public meetings and pledged that operations at the refinery would be environmentally sound. However, officials have also said the project’s environmental evaluation report will remain confidential.

Steve Tsang, of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, believes the protests highlight the rising assertiveness of China’s middle class, their environmental awareness, and their lack of trust in the authorities after a series of development-at-all-costs projects which have led to environmental scandals over the past decade.

“The protesters do not believe that the environmental downside will be handled properly, but they are also financially comfortable enough to accept the economic costs to the city/region for rejecting a major industrial facility that can provide considerable local employment opportunities,” he said.

“[The protesters] are not easy for the government to handle, as overt and excessive use of force cannot be used without images being beamed across the country and the rest of the world quickly,” he said.

Social activist, Hu Jia, said local governments are more willing to allow PX plants to be opened in their regions because they mean big revenues for local government coffers.

“However, once the officials have made their money, they can leave their jobs, but people can’t easily move elsewhere,” Mr Hu told Voice of America.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'