Thousands March in China's Shandong Against Planned Petrochemical Plant

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Longkou residents protest plans to build a petrochemical plant on islands off the Shandong coast, May 10, 2016.
Longkou residents protest plans to build a petrochemical plant on islands off the Shandong coast, May 10, 2016.
Photo sent by a resident

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong say they have halted plans to build a petrochemical plant off its coast, following days of protests by residents of Longkou city.

In the latest in a wave of environmental protests by local residents against petrochemical plants, especially paraxylene (PX) facilities, the Longkou goverment called off preliminary studies for the siting of the plant on man-made islands off the nearby coastline.

Thousands of protesters carrying banners which read "Protecting the environment is everyone's responsibility" took to the streets again on Wednesday, marching to government offices in Longkou's Xicheng district and shouting slogans, local residents told RFA.

"There are a lot of people here again today, more even than yesterday," a protester surnamed Zhou said. "There are apparently more police outside the municipal government offices than before, and they have filled up the entire area in front of the gates of city hall."

"Yesterday, there were maybe 5,000 or 6,000 people, and there was a march in the evening, when the numbers swelled to 10,000 people," she said.

"The protests have been rational and nonviolent," she added.

Suspicions remain

She said the protests had begun on Tuesday after the news of the environmental impact assessment leaked to the public.

But she said people are still suspicious in spite of government claims to have called off the studies.

"If such a plant blew up, it would flatten our neighborhood," Zhou said. "They say the pollution is already bad here in Longkou, with a lot of smog."

"Then if you add to that the waste products of the petrochemical plant, we'd have toxic smog."

A Longkou resident surnamed Yuan said the protests would continue.

"Of course we will continue to fight for our rights," he said. "We have already been to the government offices to make our opinions known."

"There is no trust whatsoever in the government right now, because we think they are trying to fob us off. Just because the environmental impact assessment is being halted doesn't mean the project is being halted."

"If they are sincere about not building this thing, they wouldn't have built the man-made islands in the first place."

The authorities have hit back at the protests, calling them "illegal" and "disruptive of public order."

Employees warned

A third local resident surnamed Cai said employers in the city had tried to stop their employees from attending the protests.

"A lot of companies in Longkou, both private sector and state-owned, made it very clear to their employees that they shouldn't take part in this activity," Cai said.

"Anyone who did take part would be fired, but a lot of people wore hats and masks and went along anyway."

An official who answered the phone at the Longkou municipal government offices on Wednesday said plans for the plant were still in the earliest stages.

"This hasn't been built. We hadn't even started work on it. It's just a piece of waste ground right now," the official said.

Asked if the government had totally shelved the plans following the protest, he said: "That I don't know. But any work on the project has stopped."

Asked to confirm that plans had been canceled, he said: "We are still researching the matter, which hasn't been finally decided."

Other protests

At least 173 people died on Aug. 12, 2015 when massive explosions ripped through a hazardous chemicals warehouse in the port area of Tianjin, destroying residential buildings near the epicenter and shattering glass up to five kilometers (three miles) away.

The disaster followed a massive blast that ripped through a petrochemicals complex in the southeastern province of Fujian in April.

Chinese authorities have tried to locate PX facilities in a number of major Chinese cities in recent years, including Shanghai, Dalian, and Xiamen, only to meet with vocal public opposition each time.

In May 2015, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Shanghai's Jinshan district in protest over proposals to relocate a paraxylene (PX) plant there.

And in April 2014, thousands of protesters converged on government buildings in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong in a mass protest against a planned PX plant in their neighborhood in Maoming city.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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