Protests in Ningbo Suggest a Possible Rise in Environmental Awareness
The Wall Street Journal reports that major protests held in Ningbo this weekend have been successful. The government has indicated that the refinery infrastructure expansion project of Sinopec Group will not be pursued, in spite of the announcement of an $8.9 billion USD investment by the firm.
The inhabitants of Ningbo, a city 150 km south of Shanghai that is already home to one of the largest petrochemical refinery centers in the country, rose up at the announcement of a new factory expansion. They expressed their concerns about the production of ethylene and paraxylene, two chemicals with adverse effects on health. More than one thousand people gathered at the gates of the municipal government to protest.
In less than an hour after the release of the government’s decision on Weibo, the message was circulated an estimated 56,000 times by Internet users on their personal pages, taking first place as the most frequently searched topic on the Internet for several days. For the media, it was the latest instantiation of an ongoing conflict that had been building over months: pressure from the public, which has become increasingly sensitive to environmental issues and industrial development decisions of late, has been steadily mounting. One need only recall the protests in Shifang in July, or those in the Qidong community in Jiangsu province that led to the cancellation of a pipeline construction project. According to the Wall Street Journal, the mobilization of urban dwellers for the preservation of their environment suggest a new stage of development for the country: a growing number of the educated upper class now firmly oppose aggressive industrial production policies implemented by local governments to support the Chinese economy.
As highlighted in the Himalayan Times, the opening of the Party congress on November 8th is perhaps not unrelated to the appeasement policy regarding environmental requirements adopted by the government in recent months. Unnecessary disorder is likely to be avoided.