Thousands Protest Planned Copper Smelting Plant in China's Heilongjiang

china-copper-sept2016.jpg Qiqihar residents turn out to protest a planned copper smelting plant in Heilongjiang, China, Sept. 20, 2016.
Photo sent by an RFA listener

Thousands of people took to the streets of Qiqihar in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang on Tuesday in a second day of protests over a planned copper smelting plant near their homes.

Video of the protests obtained by RFA showed a large crowd outside a government building as loudspeakers called on the crowd to disperse, as well as ranks of police in full riot gear lining streets and cordoning off a railway station.

Residents of Qiqihar's Fulaerji district are angry that the government has given the go-ahead to the Zijin Mining Co. to build the 100,000 tonne-capacity plant in the district.

"Everyone here is against this plant," a protester surnamed Yang said on Tuesday. "The pollution from such plants is really heavy, and I think the people of Fulaerji district are right to come out in protest."

"Even if there are no accidents, of course building a mining-related project in Fulaerji is going to have a negative impact on the people who live here," she said.

She said the protests were sparked by an online video of government officials signing a formal contract with Zijin Mining Co.

"But this only came out because somebody leaked it online, and not because the government had used formal channels to inform people," Yang said.

Town already suffers

A second protester who gave only her surname Yi said that even state media had criticized Zijin's environmental record, and that the town already suffers enough from pollution.

"We already have an old industrial district here, which already produces some pretty serious pollution," Yi said.

"Now they want to build this copper smelting plant here, and our national CCTV has reported on Zijin Mining, saying that one of their copper smelting plants far fall below standard in terms of environmental pollution, with all kinds of poisonous chemicals leaking out."

Others hit out at a lack of transparency around the project.

"Firstly, they want to build this factory but local people don't know about it, because they don't announce it openly," another protester surnamed Hu said.

"And now the government isn't even dealing with public opposition; they just keep pointing out its benefits," she said.

And a local resident surnamed Cai said that while such a plant may bring economic benefits to the town, the risk to health isn't worth taking.

"If there's a risk to future generations, then we'll still oppose it," she said.

An employee who answered the phone at the Fulaerji district police department declined to comment on the protests.

Risks to health

And an official who answered the phone at the district government offices said all the protesters had now left the area.

"They've all gone now," the official said. "There were never [more than 1,000] in the first place."

Battery makers and smelting plants have been blamed for a wave of lead poisoning cases affecting thousands of children across China in recent years, sometimes sparking violent protests.

Activists say China has an exemplary set of environmental protection laws, but that environmental officials lack the power to impose it on powerful vested interests at local level.

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


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