News / Asia

Chinese Environmental Protesters Demand Transparency

Chinese demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against a planned refinery project in downtown Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan province, May 16, 2013.
Chinese demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against a planned refinery project in downtown Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan province, May 16, 2013.
William Ide
In the short space of several weeks, two provinces in China have seen three protests against the construction of oil refinery plants. Protesters say they are concerned about the possible health and environmental impact of the plants. The protests not only highlight how environmental activism is growing in this country where speaking out about touchy topics can easily land one in jail, but the need for more transparency.

Protests over oil refineries and petrochemical facilities in China, particularly those that produce paraxylene or PX, are becoming increasingly common. PX is a suspected carcinogen that is used to make a range of products from polyester clothing to plastic bottles.

Since 2007, at least three planned PX plants have been canceled in China following local protests. This month, protesters in the capitals of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan provinces rallied in opposition to pending PX projects in their backyards, hoping for the same results.

One resident who has participated in the protests said that Kunming citizens are not boycotting the project entirely, but that they need more transparency and want to know more about why the location of the plant was chosen.

“Kunming residents are not boycotting the project, we just want to know more about why the location was chosen and are demanding more transparency," said Ma.

Chinese officials approved the oil refinery project in Kunming in January, but news of the planned plant was not released until March.

The company building the plant, state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation has tried to assure the public the project is safe and that it will not involve PX. But during a press conference earlier this month, one official from the company said there would be no PX at the plant while another said there would be PX.

Ma said the public needs more information, adding that as long as the government does not openly discuss the environmental impact of the project or list measures it will be taking to ensure safety, the public will continue to be afraid.   

Xu Nan, with China Dialogue, a website that focuses on environmental issues in China, said that while individuals are becoming more emboldened to speak out against projects, officials are also getting better at handling them.

Kunming officials have met with local residents and the mayor even established an account on China’s Twitter-like microblog feed, Weibo.  

In the space of just three hours on Friday, he  gained nearly 20,000 followers. Comments piled in by the thousands, the majority of which focused on the oil refinery project.

Xu said that even though there is a strong economic motivation for such projects, government officials do not dare to overreact and get the public more worked up.  

“These projects have a very strong economic incentives, but the Chinese government also has a clear understanding that social stability is too high a price to pay," said Xu. "In the past, movements would be easily repressed, but now government officials don’t dare to overreact and upset the public.”  

Yang Fuqiang is a senior advisor on energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing and says that while there are many refineries around China, not all have PX as a by-product.  

Yang said there is high demand for products made with PX and that that is why companies build the plants even though they have a big impact on the environment.

"There is high demand for products made with PX and that is the driving economic force behind companies’ decision to build these plants that have such a big impact on the environment," said Yang.  

Energy analysts said the refinery project in Kunming is crucial because it is first of its kind in the land-locked southern province of Yunnan.

The province is also the first stop of the Burma-China pipeline, which is scheduled for completion this month.

Currently, most of China’s oil and gas from Africa and the Middle East is shipped through the Straits of Malacca.

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Yang said the Burma-China pipeline will be more cost effective for the province. Right now, Yunnan brings oil and gas in from China’s coastal areas.  

Yang said that Yunnan’s economy relies heavily on tourism and that local officials want it to be a source of future economic development for the area.

 "Local officials are using this project as a source of future economic development because there are no refineries in the area,”  Yang noted.

Making that case to the public, however, will continue to be a challenge. Residents said their fears will continue as long they cannot be assured that there is no impact to their health, especially their children.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid