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Kunming residents rally against chemical plant

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Several hundred people gathered on Kunming's Zhengyi Lu on May 16 to voice their concerns regarding the environmental impact of a proposed factory. The police presence at the gathering was heavy but there were no reports of major clashes or violence.

At issue is the construction of a plant scheduled to be built in conjunction with an enormous Anning (安宁) petrochemical complex. Opposition to the facility centers around the production of paraxylene (PX), a known carcinogen used in the manufacture of polyester fabric and plastic bottles.

The hundreds who turned up to protest the factory are largely concerned with how the plant, if built, would affect air and water quality in Yunnan province's capital city. GoKunming spoke to several people who attended the rally, which began in earnest around 10am.

They reported the event was largely calm with occasional outbursts of pushing and shoving. People carried signs with slogans denouncing the PX plant and many wore protective guaze facemasks emblazoned with the 'No PX' logo.

Walls of police officers cordoned off groups of people from one another and by noon had asked all foreigners to leave. Arrests have been reported in online forums, but those claims remain unverified. At 4pm Kunming vice-mayor He Bo (何波) arrived and began to speak with members of the crowd.

Following the rally the government issued an editorial to Kunming media outlets. The statement alternately described the rally in terms of being "non-productive" while also having contributing to a "frank dialogue". The press release read in part:

The deep concern and enthusiasm of the masses to protect the environment is entirely consistent with the ideas and goals of the party and the government.

A small online survey linked from the editorial shows the majority of respondents are specifically concerned over the proposed plant's pollution levels and generally worried by existing regulatory standards. This is the second rally this month protesting the paraxylene facility. Opposition organization has been largely organic and spread through word of mouth as well as via social networking websites such as Weibo.

Kunming's mayor Li Wenrong (李文荣), who previously expressed a willingness for dialogue on the refinery issue, opened his own Weibo account after the rally. He has so far written only one message, which says he is willing to listen to the people's concerns and suggestions about development in the Spring City.

Image: Sander van de Moortel

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Lots of people are against this new plant.

I was told yesterday by an administrator at a large local university that all students were prohibited from going to that protest on May 16th.

The same person also stated they were in support of it. That seems to be the general consensus that I have heard. There is much more opposition to the opening of this plant than can be seen at any protest.

The gubmint will want to consider economic development. They need to remember that Anning is part of Kunming, and any further pollution issues (they already have Dianchi mess) will hurt Kunming's tourism.

Tourism needs to be planned for, and tourism is one of the few industries where the money comes in at the bottom level and filters up.

Kudos to Gokunming for speaking to participants and reporting on this incident. And even more kudos to the protesters who took the time, made the effort, and were undeterred from speaking truth to power.

They need to keep up the pressure. It would be nice if celebrities would speak out against this. Give it as much attention. We know roaches don't like when the light switch is turned on.

The students are not only prohibited from involving in the protest, but they can't ask for a leave for every class, even if u are going to die. And if one is caught for going to the protests, he or she will be punished and will never ever get a chance to take a job in the gummint.

Lots of people are abusing this issue, but how many of them really know what the chemical PX really is? What are their worries? Yes, you may say the environmental pollution. But how? Can you be more specific? Does the chemical indeed lead to cancer? As a foreigner, you really need to learn something deep inside Chinese people. You might have seen so many times how the government prevent people form protesting. You may blame the lack of democracy in this country. But the reason why you only can focus your attention on these superficial phenomenon is that you don't really understand China less than Chinese pepole. What is democracy? Parade whenever people want to? Saying whatever people like to say? Have you ever heard about the Cultural Revolution in Chinese history? Do you know how much pain Chinese people had suffered from it? Sometimes, the rally just offers a chance for certain group of people to express their dissatisfaction about their current status in this society, which has nothing to do with specific issue. It is not hard to see why they become so angry when they find they are poor compared with others' richness, moreover they cannot change anything except for yelling. But questions again, do you think any Western government can confidently anounce they are capable to solve such a discrepancy in such a big country with billions of people? Our government wants to secure the stablity of the whole society, and so do most the citizens. So hope you can gradually learn what the truth really was behind these phenomenon? Another tip: why not do a survey on what kind of people are going to take part in such a protest? High-educated people? Peple who contributed a lot for this society? Ignorance is the begaining of all tragedies.

After checking these threads again, I find most threads were posted by Chinese. Shame on them, maybe they are too young to understand their country. This also reflects another disturbing problem in China that young generations have gradually forgotten their country's history. 希望你们不要变得崇洋媚外,没有骨气自己都瞧不起自己,世界还怎能瞧地起你为自己的国家争口气,不要总是在老外面前说自己国家的不好

Thanks Ian. That summed it up very well. Nice to hear a voice of reason here. If I could I'd promote your comment. I guess my latest Forum post went in the same direction, just so much more sarcastic.
Again, I couldn't agree more.

Well Ian, I do not agree that much with your second to post. I personally do not blame anybody for protesting, nor would I use the concept of shame.
It's just what you said in the first post: Does everybody really what they are protesting against?

Ian, you have a point in your first post. But in any country's protests, there is always a majority that does not exactly know what they are demonstrating against. Just as people voting Obama don't necessarily know his entire program. What matters is that, if a select group is able to understand the problem (from what little information leaks out), they can convince a larger group to fight for their cause. Much like politicians and parties in the West do. We call it democracy. So by those (our) standards, China possesses some sort of democracy.

Also, you don't see any foreigners complaining the lack of democracy in this country. They are complaining about the dirty tricks the government is playing to keep people from voicing their opinions: threatening to fire and imprison, that's just blackmail.

Finally, it's not entirely right to say that there is no democracy in China. According to a Chinese friend of mine, there is something called a 听证会 (tingzhenghui), a public hearing, where larger projects are submitted to a public vote. Some of the anger in this case is that there was no such hearing about the building of this plant.

From the banners, it looks that Kunmingers mostly care about health and blue skies, an easy life with enough to survive on. As more and more people reach that level where they have enough to survive comfortably, more and more people are going to stand up against things that impact their quality of life.

But, as someone put it: "I care about this city, I have family here. But we are all happily driving some 300,000 cars inside this city- and no-one is protesting that." Very good point.

I'm sorry about the second post, since I'm little whelmed by personal emotion. Actually, I really could understand these people's thoughts and know the reason why they did this or said that. I just feel terrible to see so many young people are spreading the wrong message to the world, where has already exsited some bias. I'm not denying there are still many problems existing in China, but it needs a phase to improve them. I would like to offer another interesting fact: Many young Chinese people are complaining about Marxism, but those who offerred comments even never read a single word in the book. Peolple who had learnt Marxim must know it's philosopy more than policy. Marx is really a genius who offerred a scientific way for people to understand this world. His thoughts helps a lot even for individual life.

Sometimes, we really hope for a greater liberty in speech. But none could be sure when would be the best time to unlash everything. Set this forum as an example, I believe if one day more and more people can calmly analyse one issue in different perspective, we will be no far from the day.

When I saw that Kunming people had asked the American government for help to stop the refinery and PX project on the Whitehouse Petition website I at first thought it was extremely funny, but when you feel your own government is not listening to you,,what options do you have?

Ian: yes it needs a phase to improve. And protests are inherent parts of governmental development. It's impossible for every person to know all the details of everything. People have work and family to care about. But other decisions are nonetheless impacting their lives. That is why people that have time and capacity to think will think for them. That's how it's always been.

I have nothing more to add, otherwise I would take over this thread on how refineries work, how PX is used, how it seems that only China views it as a carcinogen (someone remember the Fukushima-Salt-crisis?) and which substances carry carcinogenic properties.
Ian, take my advice... brew yourself a nice cup of tea (but not a carcinogenic one, all right!?), do some research on those topics, sit back, relax and observe. You might be able to learn more about human nature than you think. Always keep in mind that knowledge is power and will help you in your future life.

Ian Fu is really a shy bee

fk px

you can see what they have done to yunnan

dianchi dead

xingyun lake dead

i am afraid fuxianlake,erhai lake ......

yeah, 'they'.
i love it how people blame all the pollution problems on 'they'/'them'.

i have a simple question i'd like to ask everyone protesting. what's your carbon footprint?

Yeah, it's not only the carbon footprint.
Let's ask Alex directly: Look around where you are right now... Can you see an outdoor jacket? Maybe a backpack? Or how about a PET bottle? Maybe you just had a sip of coke, iced tea, green tea, Fanta, water? Do you see any of these items?
I'd say yes. Am I right? If so, I urge you to throw these out immediately as they are made out of PX. Yeah, that's right. When you manufacturer polyester you start with PX. Then you add oxygen to it after that you combined it with an alcohol and voilá, you have plastic.

So, I believe maybe you should rethink your position about PX or throw out everything made out, or containing polyester. Should I sum up some items which you cannot use anymore?

Or is it just the NIMBY problem? Google it and you know what I mean.

Real Nimbys drink Perrier water.

Mmmhhh... Glass bottles. Now we're talking carbon footprint!

I think the point of it all is that they do not want it in Yunnan. Why? Because China has a bad record of pollution and cleaning it up. Look at the Dianchi lake and how they are failing to clean it up and how long it's going to take. If the new plant was to have a disaster they feel that China couldn't handle it in a timely manner. With all the corruption, I tend to agree. I hope they decide to go somewhere else.

Yes, they don't want it in yunnan and want it go somewhere else so it becomes someone else's problem.

Right! As long as I live in Yunnan, I agree with them. Ha..ha.

I have a better idea. Rather than take part in silly protests and hold the unethical view that it's ok for other people to suffer the ill effects of the pollution we create by moving the oil refineries and chemical plants to their back yards or blame the govt for everything, let's figure out how to stop polluting.

Actually, there's people organized to protest again on June 6th. at the International conference and exhibition center with banner and mask, same day with the opening of South Asia Expo, try to draw attention to prime minister Li Keqiang and foreign press.

That's an excellent idea!

Modern life demands complex chemistry and technology. Business demands profits. The further the profit is from the site of production and the drones who labour, the greater the indifference to environmental disasters. Add in the layers of chinese corruption and it is no wonder a chinese person does not want an industrial process any where near their city. Pollution, profit and poisonous futures are the short term outcomes that precede quality of life, sense of shared responsibility and effective regulation. But only when people can make their voices heard !!!

and ironically, there's a protest in shandong going on at the moment. they want the proposed chemical plant there moved to yunnan.

it's not as much about PX as about the quality standard of the plant. China is notorious for corner-cutting resulting in rattling structures. You don't want a rattling chemical plant in your back yard.

I was at the protest and the police presence was pretty damn intimidating. However, the people were undeterred, even though the actual AMOUNT of people was quite disappointing. The government's measures to reduce the level of participation worked pretty well. The energy from the small crowd, however was really great. I did not participate for several obvious reasons, yet I was photographed a bunch and those pix ended up all over the internets. I'll let the foreign community know of the repurcussions...
I agree many many of the recent posts about the midguidedness of the protests. I think its possible that the Kunming populace could keep the factory in check regarding safeguarding the environment, so its better to for it to be constructed here. If its out in some rural area, there will be a less-educated populace with no power to make sure the factory is run according to environmental regulations. Local officials in more rural areas are easier to corrupt and there's a lot less press.

I'm a KM resident, my wife and I own a business here and I love this city, but I think there are much much much more pressing issues to demonstrate against in this country than the construction of a factory nearby.

Young people are forgetting their history...right, how could i forget those history i have learned for more than ten years. It seems some people are really blamed young generation for being "foreign-oriented". It's like exposing badness to the other countries means young people don't love this country anymore. We young people do this because we are oppressed since going to the kindergarten. We can't go to a demonstration when the Olympic torch is grabbed, when those innocent sailor got killed on the Mekong River, when Diaoyu Island is possessed by Japanese... We can't do nothing but watch the gov saying:"We are always trying to settle disputes peacefully...".

Yeah, young people are lost. Do u know why? We do not dare to protest until our ordinary life is threatened.

About Marxism, Ian Fu, what China are doing now is really what Marx has said. You know much better than me.

"...when Diaoyu Island is possessed by Japanese"

You need to take that up with the Qing dynasty man, not the CCP

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