Thousands Protest Waste Incinerator Plans in China's Wuhan

2019-07-04
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Residents in the central Chinese city of Wuhan hold a street protest over plans to build a new waste incineration plant.
Residents in the central Chinese city of Wuhan hold a street protest over plans to build a new waste incineration plant.
Courtesy of an RFA listener.

Authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan have detained around 20 people in a crackdown this week on a mass street protest at plans to build a new waste incineration plant, RFA has learned.

Amid chants of "Give us back our clean environment!", an estimated 10,000 residents from apartments near the Yangluo industrial development area in Wuhan's Xinzhou district turned out against the plan on Tuesday and Wednesday, local residents said.

The local government dispatched around 1,000 riot police to disperse the crowd, with large numbers of injuries reported, they said.

Many of the arrests were of social media users for posting or forwarding information about the protests via the closely controlled platform WeChat.

A Xinzhou resident surnamed Xu said the protest was a spontaneous action by local people, who are angry that local officials are ignoring their health concerns.

"The site was originally a landfill," Xu said. "The air quality is already very poor in Yangluo and the groundwater has been polluted for more than a decade."

"Now they say they have to build a waste incineration power plant, which is a threat to our lives," he said.

The waste incinerator plan comes after the Chenjiachong landfill site in Xinzhou exceeded its capacity just five years after its opening in 2007.

Local residents -- who number around 400,000 -- said they first learned of the renewed incinerator plan in mid-June, and immediately organized a petition against it. The government responded by having around 20 of the petitioners detained.

This week, the authorities blocked the mobile phone signal, as well as sending in police to beat up and detain protesters. According to Xu, the government feared the Wuhan protesters would communicate with anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong.

A local resident surnamed Zhang said the Xinzhou district government had responded to the protests by saying that it would consult more widely with local people, and that the project won't go ahead without the consent of the local community.

No faith in authorities

But Zhang said many local residents simply don't believe this.

"They tried to start a project like this here before, and the people kicked up a huge fuss, and it was shelved," Zhang said.

"But less than six months later, the old district governor was transferred away, and the new one reapplied for the project as soon as he took up his post."

A resident who declined to be named said it was unacceptable to build a waste incinerator in a densely populated residential area.

"There are many ways in which this will have an impact on people's lives: the air pollution, the harm to health, all of that," the resident said.

"But what government really speaks up for the people? None of them do. If they did, then no garbage incinerators would be built in residential areas," he said.

Last month, tens of thousands of residents of Yunfu city in the southern province of Guangdong also took to the streets to protest against plans for a waste incinerator in Mintang village.

Three days later, the government announced the project would be canceled at the selected site.

And on June 26, authorities in Xiantao city in the central province of Hubei announced they would initially shelve, and then cancel altogether, a similar project following mass protests by local residents.

Decades of breakneck economic growth have left China with a seriously degraded environment, with regular environmental protests emerging among the country's middle class.

Previous attempts to build similar plants elsewhere across China have drawn widespread criticism over local government access to the huge potential profits linked to waste disposal projects.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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