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

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid