Standoff Over Petrochemical Plant

Residents in northern China's Tianjin oppose the construction of a petrochemical plant.
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Protesters carry a banner in Tianjin, April 13, 2012.
Protesters carry a banner in Tianjin, April 13, 2012.
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Thousands of residents of the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin demonstrated in recent days, calling for the cancellation of a planned U.S.$1.7 billion Sino-Saudi joint venture petrochemical plant, protesters said.

Some residents and microblogs said that the government had promised protesters it would suspend the construction on the plant following the mass protests but this could not be officially confirmed.

Protesters carried banners which read, "Cherish life; protect the port district; this is all for our children," a protester surnamed Li said.

She said the protests had led to clashes with police in which a number of people were beaten and injured.

She said local people had also been ordered by schools and employers not to allow their children to take part in the protests, and the city government had sent out mass texts to local residents warning them not to continue with the demonstrations.

"Quite a lot of people had been showing up to the protests after they got off work," Li said.

"A directive came through on Sunday calling on all employees to go home and watch their kids, because there were large numbers of children at the protests in recent days," she said.

"Employers are also forbidding their employees to take part."

Repeated calls to the Binhai New District government offices on Monday resulted in a busy signal.

An official who answered the phone at the Tianjin municipal propaganda department declined to comment.

"We are not aware of the latest developments," the official said. "So I really don't know."


Eyewitnesses said thousands of people took to the streets of Tianjin's port district in protests against the plant at the weekend.

However, microblog and Internet forum posts from the scene were rapidly deleted, and RFA was unable to verify their content.

Microblog posts quoted a local official as saying on Saturday that work on the 260,000-tonne-per-year polycarbonate joint venture between Saudi Arabia's SADIC and China's Sinopec, which began in early April, would halt pending further environmental impact assessments.

User "Danjing" on the microblogging service of Beijing TV forwarded a previously deleted tweet from Sina Weibo user @kangshifuerguotou, which read: "The mass protests at Tianjin port against the Sinopec polycarbonate plant have begun to have an effect."

"On the afternoon of April 14, 2012, the Party secretary of the Tianjin municipal Binhai new district construction committee, Zhang Zhifang went to the scene of the mass protests. He told the people gathered there that the Tianjin Party committee and government about the decision by Sinopec to halt construction and tried to reason with them."

Li said that after the protests had continued for several days, on Saturday local officials had given protesters a notice saying they would temporarily suspend construction and conduct new environmental studies.


Protesters said they feared life-threatening pollution levels from the plant.

"As a citizen [of Tianjin], I am definitely against this," said a woman identified by her surname Sun. "There will be very serious pollution from this project."

Protesters fear that an estimated 500,000 people could be affected by pollution from the plant.

"This will endanger the lives ordinary people," said Tianjin resident and protester Wang Jinling. "This plant should be built out in the suburbs."

"They can't be allowed to risk the health of the people in their single-minded pursuit of money," Wang said.

Fujian-based environmental activist Zhang Changjian, who has been following the Tianjin protests, said China's environmental laws stipulate that local people should be consulted in any environmental impact assessment for new factories.

"Actually, none of them participated [in a consultation] at any point," Zhang said. "None of them knew about it until the day they began construction."

He said most important decisions in China were made between local government and industry, and were part of a web of vested interests.

"Basically, local governments now go ahead with any kind of project they like, without concerning themselves whether local people live or die," Zhang said.

A local resident surnamed Wang said the demonstrations had been concentrated around Tianjin's Century Square.

"Once the people who live near the port heard about this, how could they not oppose it?" she said. "They were saying it would leak and endanger their lives."

"They shouldn't build it so close [to residential areas]," she added. "If it leaked, people would have nowhere to run to."

China has been rocked by a series of pollution scandals after years of lax enforcement of what environmentalists say are, on paper, high environmental standards.

Many of the poisonings have involved lead and various toxins from chemical and electronics factories, often affecting the health of local children.

Many incidents of pollution, even quite major ones, along with subsequent protests by local people, go unreported.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu 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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