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.
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 Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs