No Sign of Early End to Shanghai Protest Over Planned PX Plant

china-pxprotest-june262015.jpeg Shanghai residents protest plans to relocate a PX plant to the city's Jinshan district, June 25, 2015.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Shanghai this week, as protests against proposals to relocate a paraxylene (PX) plant to the city's Jinshan district showed no signs of abating amid calls for a larger protest this weekend.

Photos of Friday's protest taken from above showed the crowd stretching two or three blocks, while others showed protesters carrying banners through the lamp-lit streets that read: "Give us back our Jinshan! Protect the environment! Stay away from pollution!"

One photo showed a close-packed crowd marching down a street by night, carrying a red banner, part of which read: "Stay away from cancer!"

"This has been going on for five days now, and I am guessing that there are about 50,000 people here today, even more than yesterday, when there were about 40,000," a Shanghai resident who declined to be named told RFA.

The protests have continued since Monday, in spite of assurances by the Jinshan authorities that no PX plant is planned for Jinshan, which is already home to a chemical industrial park.

Protesters believe that the authorities are planning to relocate an existing PX plant from the Gaoqiao industrial park to Jinshan.

Friday's protest appeared to go off peacefully, with some police officers visible in photographs, but no clashes, according to the Shanghai resident.

"We are walking very peacefully ... Everyone is here to protect their own rights and interests," the resident told RFA.

"The most important thing is to protect the environment, so we don't want the government to bring this project here."

Workers, children join march

Video of Thursday's protest obtained by RFA showed a large crowd of thousands, including schoolchildren, marching with banners and shouting "Give us back our Jinshan," accompanied by groups of people riding scooters.

Others chanted: "Go Jinshan!" The crowd marched to the Jinshan district government offices, accompanied but not stopped by police, before marching around adjacent streets, protesters said.

Footage shot by day and night suggested that Thursday's protests continued well into the evening, as people joined in after leaving work.

One photo dated June 25 showed an estimated 10,000 standing at an intersection on Jinshan's Weiqing Road by night, holding banners.

A protester surnamed Jin said he had heard of plans to take the protest to People's Square at the heart of Shanghai's government district.

"The government is preventing any news from getting out about Jinshan, but people can move, can't they?" Jin said.

"I heard that police will be checking people's ID on all the major routes that lead to the People's Square."

"They want to see if people from Jinshan are going there to protest," Jin said.

'Stay away,' officials urge

The protests have continued in spite of intensive propaganda activities on the part of the government aimed at ensuring that local residents stay away from the marches, and in spite of a public announcement by the district government on Monday denying any plans for a PX plant.

"The police came knocking on our door, but I didn't open up," Jin said. "About a half hour later, the police called me on my phone to give me some 'education.'"

"A lot of people have had this happen to them. Some have been invited to the police department to 'drink tea,' and they don't get out of there until many hours later," he said.

"A lot of people have been forced by their employer to sign pledges not to attend the demonstrations," Jin said. "If they don't sign, their job could be affected."

Repeated calls to the Jinshan district government offices, including to the direct line of propaganda official Wang Yong who is in charge of statements on the PX protests, rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.

'Listening carefully'

However, a statement on the official microblog account of the Shanghai municipal government on the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo said the government is "listening carefully to the opinions of local people."

"On the morning of June 26, the municipal government carried out a public opinion hearing in Jinshan district," the statement said.

Without directly mentioning the ongoing protests, the statement posted on Friday said the municipal government has ordered the Shanghai industrial parks committee "to terminate its current strategy and [to edit] the environmental impact assessment."

"In response to concern by citizens, the Shanghai municipal government and the Jinshan district government's main task will be to take forceful measures to clean up pollution and to protect the environment," it said, without mentioning the PX project.

But the Shanghai resident at the scene of Friday's protest said the government's attempts to quell popular anger had largely failed.

"The government keeps saying that there is no PX project, but the general public are no fools," the resident said.

Media blackout

A Jinshan resident surnamed Li told RFA on Thursday that the protests have been conspicuously absent from local media.

"The Shanghai municipal government is putting a huge amount of pressure on the media, so that a lot of people who live here don't have a clue that these big protests are taking place in Jinshan," Li said.

"The government has a very strict information blackout in place."

The Jinshan protests come after a massive blast ripped through a petrochemicals complex in the southeastern province of Fujian in April, following a string of earlier safety failures which further damaged public trust in the petrochemicals industry.

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

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.

Worsening levels of air and water pollution, as well as disputes over the effects of heavy metals from mining and industry, have forced China's growing middle classes to become increasingly involved in environmental protection and protest.

China has a comprehensive set of environmental protection legislation, but close ties between business and officials mean that it is rarely enforced at a local level, activists and experts say.

Reported by Wei Ling and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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