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

Photogallery Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid