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
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat