Bad decision-making was the main reason for a violent environmental protest in eastern China over the weekend, a state newspaper said in an unusually mild reproach after thousands of residents ransacked offices and overturned cars.
Chinese officials canceled an industrial waste pipeline project on Saturday after the violence in Qidong, Jiangsu Province, the latest in a string of pollution protests across the country. Similar scenes of violence sparked by environmental fears played out earlier this month in Shifang, Sichuan Province, highlighting the social tensions China faces as it approaches a leadership transition this year.
Authorities are especially worried about maintaining social stability as they balance economic growth and the fallout from environmental pollution.
“An irrational decision-making process is the main reason why the Shifang and Qidong governments experienced mass incidents,” the normally hawkish Global Times said.
It added that the two governments should not be strapped with total blame, because they lacked guidance on handling such cases and had to react to competing pressures to maintain stability and respond to the public outcry.
In a development likely to worry Beijing, some demonstrators in -Qidong said they were inspired by the events in Shifang, where the protests were widely seen as having forced the local government to cancel a refinery project.
The spread of a “Shifang-Qidong Model” of violent protest would damage social stability “and present an unprecedented challenge to China’s future development,” the Global Times warned.
“Now is a good opportunity with these classic cases of Shifang and Qidong to undertake serious reforms within the system,” it said.
The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece and the Global Times’ parent publication, applauded the local government’s decision to permanently scrap the offending project that planned to dump waste water from a paper factory into the sea near Qidong.
It said officials should reflect on recent conflicts and consider the question of how to foster rational interaction between governments and the people to avoid “irrational emotions” and “extreme behavior.”
Meanwhile, a Japanese paper firm whose factory was at the center of the deadly protests said yesterday it was concerned about the demonstration, but rejected pollution claims as “groundless.”
Up to three people were killed, scores injured and up to 100 detained in Qidong, said rights watchdog Chinese Human Rights Defenders after tens of thousands of protesters clashed with police, overturned cars and ransacked government offices.
The rioters were angry over a planned pipeline running 100km from the Oji Paper plant to release waste water into the sea close to Qidong, which is near Shanghai.
The Japanese firm said in a statement yesterday that it was “concerned about the protest demonstration,” but called allegations the pipeline would dump toxins into local waterways “totally groundless.”
“There are some reports that discharged water would contain carcinogens, but that is totally groundless,” it said. “We are controlling water quality in a responsible manner by purifying water enough to satisfy China’s national standards.”