Boycott Follows Pollution Protests

Chinese netizens want their countrymen to stop buying products from a Japanese paper firm.

Residents take to the streets of Qidong in protest of the Oji Paper Group, July 28, 2012.

Chinese netizens on Monday called for a boycott of Japanese paper goods following rioting at the weekend sparked by public protests against  plans for an industrial waste pipeline in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

Authorities in Jiangsu's Qidong city said they would scrap the planned long-distance industrial pipeline, an investment of Japan's Oji (in Chinese,  Wangzi) Paper Group, as police remained on guard outside city government buildings.

The topic garnered thousands of posts on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service, including anti-Japanese sentiment mixed with calls for consumer action.

"How can a Japanese paper factory come and damage Chinese people’s health and our environment?" wrote one Weibo user identified as being in the southern province of Guangdong. "How can we with our 1.3-billion population be afraid of that little Japan?"

Another user called for a nationwide boycott of Japanese products, while a third, based in Jiangsu where the riots rocked Qidong city, wrote: "Little Japan, get out of my country!”

Many microbloggers vowed they would boycott products made by Oji paper, the company that had planned to pump its waste through the province by pipeline.

Tension remains

A Qidong resident surnamed Deng said the city was tense but quiet following riots at the weekend in which protesters stormed government buildings, smashing office equipment.

"The situation has pretty much returned to normal," Deng said. "The shops are open and everything's very quiet."

But he said there was still a strong security presence near official buildings.

"There are several hundred armed police standing guard on the road that runs past the municipal government offices," Deng said. "They aren't letting cars or passers-by go past it."

He said local people had turned out in force on Saturday to protest the long-distance industrial waste pipeline which they feared would poison local water supplies.

"It was total chaos at the time," Deng said. "The local people completely took over the municipal government buildings and they were standing outside offices on every level of the building."

"The entire street was packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder."

He said protesters had stormed the building and begun throwing official documents out of the window. "They overturned a lot of government vehicles as well," Deng added.

'Stripped to the waist'

A second resident surnamed Yan said that more than 10,000 local people had clashed with police, in what he said was a sudden expression of popular anger over the project that had been simmering for months.

"People here have been opposing this project for more than a year now," Yan said. "Everyone is very angry because there has been no response [from the authorities] so far."

He said the crowds had surrounded Sun Jianhua, municipal secretary of the local ruling Communist Party committee, and pulled off his shirt, forcing him to wear a protest tunic instead.

"They forced him to wear an anti-pollution shirt," Yan said. "They stripped him to the waist. I saw it with my own eyes."

A second resident surnamed Liu said she had also witnessed the incident. "He didn't want to wear it," she said. "He refused. In the end, he didn't wear it."

"A lot of people saw it," she added.

Official media said protesters had dispersed after the government announced the cancellation of the project on television, the Internet and radio.

Pollution concerns

The pipeline would have discharged 150,000 tons of waste-water a day into Tanglu port, an important fishing harbor about 100 kilometers from the Qingcaosha reservoir, which supplies drinking water to Shanghai, the English-language China Daily quoted local environmental officials as saying.

Oji Paper denied that the pipeline would cause pollution, however.

"Our factory in Nantong adopts very strict water quality management measures. We release water after purification, and the water meets national standards," it said in a statement on its Chinese website.

Meanwhile, netizens called for a direct boycott of Nepia products, the brand name Oji uses in China.

"I really like its quality, but it will harm my homeland so I will give up using Nepia and boycott it," said a Weibo user in Shanghai. "I only use Nepia tissue, but it seems that I have to change my habit," another user wrote.

In Japan, the Asahi Shimbun reported that more than a dozen local police on Saturday pushed to the ground and beat one of its reporters, Shanghai-based Atsushi Okudera.

"We protest to the Chinese government and demand an apology and return of his camera and press ID," an editor at the paper was widely quoted as saying by Japanese media.

Shenzhen-based rights activist Zhu Jianguo said the Qidong incident was similar to riots in the southwestern province of Sichuan earlier this month.

"The people are setting out to defend their rights in relation to the entire public environment," Zhu said. "This isn't a question of each household or individual fighting on their own behalf."

"This is a struggle for social justice and for their rights," he said. "There has been a huge expansion of people's awareness."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by
Luisetta Mudie.