Yam, a local woman who declined to give her family name because of fear of retaliation, said her employer on Thursday asked its employees not to take part in protests and threatened them with punishment if they did, after her company’s general manager was invited to a tea session with the city’s propaganda officials. She said her friends at state-owned companies were threatened with expulsion if they should protest.
“I think the government has failed to give the public an open and just explanation, but tried to avoid the issue and suppress it, making us to think even worse,” she said.
On Saturday, police officers were seen being transported into key locations, such as Sichuan University and the Nine-Eye Bridge, in buses marked with the words “Public Security.” They lined up along streets and ringed a major public square, spaced about a meter apart from each other, according to online photographs and witness reports. Some witnesses said security guards, traffic coordinators and neighborhood matrons were recruited to help keep order and that data services for mobile phones were briefly cut off at about 2pm.
Calls to PetroChina rang unanswered on Saturday. In a company statement carried in state media on Saturday, it said the project has been approved by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and the National Development and Reform Commission, and that it has been evaluated for earthquake safety. It also promised to halt production should any environmental issue arise.
“Our employees live here with their parents spending their retirement years and their children growing up,” the statement reads. “Like everyone else, we want the sky to be bluer, the water clearer and the air fresher.”
Ma Jun (馬軍) of the non-governmental Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs said solving environmental disputes through public demonstrations carries both social and economic costs.
“The best place to solve the conflicts should be inside a town hall, rather than in the street,” Ma said.
He added that any public demonstration against the petrochemical plant could be futile because more than 38 billion yuan (US$6 billion) has already been spent on the project.
“It’s a done deal,” Ma said.
He said the public needs to be able to learn the details about such projects and to participate in the decisionmaking process, which has been monopolized by governments and businesses seeking to maximize their profits. Environmental evaluations are also designed to support the projects, he said.
“With the rising public awareness on environment and the worsening condition, this must change,” Ma said. “You have to respect each other’s rights.”