Protesters in Kunming demonstrate against a proposed PX petrochemical plant.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Kunming, Yunnan province, on Thursday to protest plans to build a paraxylene (PX) producing petrochemical plant in the city. Read our live coverage of the protests here.
The number of demonstrators is still unclear, as NBC explains:
Protesters who spoke to NBC News put the number of demonstrators at around 1,000, while The Associated Press reported that about 2,500 had attended. There was no explanation for the discrepancy and Kunming police declined to comment.
In the Kunming police’s credit, it is traditional for police forces around the world to vastly underestimate protest figures, and for organisers to vastly overestimate them.
The construction of paraxylene plants is becoming more and more difficult in developed, urban areas of the country, as ‘not in my backyard’ (nimby) protests gather steam across the country. A four day protest in Ningbo in October led to plans for a PX plant in that city being scrapped.
This week, a proposed battery plant in Shanghai was cancelled after sustained objections and demonstrations from local residents.
As Jeremy Goldkorn pointed out on Twitter on Thursday, this doesn’t mean the plants won’t be built, just that they’ll be moved to less middle class areas:
Kunming: now what are they going to do? Move the PX to some place with peasants who don’t use Weibo, right?
— Jeremy Goldkorn 金玉米 (@goldkorn) May 16, 2013
The AP spoke to several protesters, who echoed the (understandable) nimby-motivations behind the protest:
Kunming officials said this week that the refinery planned by powerful state company PetroChina Co. will meet environment standards and is crucial for the local economy, but residents are worried about the air and water pollution that will result.
“We don’t need speedy development. What we need is a healthy and peaceful country,” Kunming resident Liu Yuncheng said. “I still haven’t given birth to a baby. I want to be pregnant and I want a healthy baby.”
Members of China’s public, especially among the rising middle class, have become increasingly outspoken against environmentally risky factories, in reaction to a decade of development-at-all-costs policies that have polluted the country’s air and waterways.
Kunming mayor Li Wenrong met with protesters to discuss their concerns:
Li vowed to improve government transparency and to listen to the public. He also promised to open a microblog account by noon today.
He repeated that whether the PX project went ahead would depend on public opinion, but rejected a proposal from the protesters for a referendum of the city’s seven million residents.
“There is no precedent for one person, one vote, being practised in our country, so it is not likely to happen,” he said.
Li also evaded most questions about the fate of the refinery, frustrating some protesters who left in the middle of the meeting. Instead, he offered face-to-face dialogue with protesters next Wednesday. Only eight people signed up.
True to his word, Li posted the first message to his official microblog on Friday:
Hello everybody! I am the mayor of Kunming Li Wenrong, and today I have launched my Sina microblog, hoping to build an open line of communication with you. I am willing to listen to your views on the construction and development of Kunming, and myself and my colleagues will carefully study all your suggestions and recommendations.
Thank you for you attention. I will carefully sort and respond to your questions as soon as possible. I hope we can offer support and understanding [smiley face emoticon].
As of writing, Li has over 23,000 followers.
Despite the relatively lax censorship of the protest on Weibo on Thursday (photos and statuses from the demonstration are still, by and large, searchable on the site), state media received clear instructions not to cover the incident, according to China Digital Times:
Central Propaganda Department: Without exception, do not republish, report, or comment on the assembly of the masses in Kunming to protest the construction of a PetroChina oil refinery.
State Internet Information Office: All websites are asked to remove text, images, and video related to the protest of over 1,000 people in Kunming city center against the Anning PX construction plan. Interactive platforms must strictly monitor activity. (May 16, 2013)
(h/t: Patrick Boehler)