An influential newspaper urged citizens yesterday against taking their grievances to the streets, after thousands of protesters reportedly forced the closure of a plant that they said could belch out carcinogenic chemicals.
The warning, in an English--language daily with close links to the Chinese Communist Party, came a day after about 12,000 people demonstrated in the northeastern city of Dalian following fears of a toxic leak at the factory.
Local authorities acted unusually swiftly to shut down the plant, owned by the privately run Dalian Fujia Petrochemical Co, and said it would be relocated.
A comment piece in The Global Times said that while such protests were becoming more common, they were not the right way for Chinese people to express their grievances.
“Some Dalian citizens went to the streets to express their views, however, [this is] a move that should not be advocated in China,” said the paper, which is owned by the People’s Daily.
“While the Dalian local government decided to stop and relocate the project, Chinese society has objected to taking their issues to the street,” said the article, which appeared in the paper’s opinion pages.
However, the company was continuing to operate the 700,000-tonne-per-year paraxylene plant normally despite an order on Sunday to close it, an industry source said yesterday.
The plant, one of the country’s leading importers of naphtha, is carrying on normal shipments of naphtha from regular suppliers such as Iran and Papua New Guinea, the source said.
“The plant is running normally ... there is no notice for operation changes,” said one source familiar with the plant’s operations.
The Chinese-language media devoted little or no space to the Dalian protests, while blog posts and -photographs of the participants were swiftly removed from the Internet.
The largely peaceful protest in the port city was the latest bout of unrest to hit China as anger over issues such as social inequality and environmental degradation boils over.
“Such expressions of public opinion have become frequent in today’s China. This indicates social progress, as it shows the public has more opportunities to be heard,” the Global Times said.
However, the newspaper said the demonstration “should not be -simply seen as a victory of a protest.”
“In fact, in China, reasonable public appeals will eventually be accepted by the government” it said.
Pollution-related scares are common in China — the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases — where an emphasis on economic growth over the past three decades has led to widespread environmental degradation. Environmental problems have triggered a rising number of riots and other forms of public unrest over the years.
A project in Xiamen was scrapped following huge public discontent about industrial pollution.