China's Kunming Residents Stage Another Chemical Plant Protest

Hundreds of Kunming residents gathered outside city government buildings on May 16, 2013 to protest against plans for a chemical refinery near the southern Chinese city, the second major demonstration against the project after a protest on May 4.

The China National Petroleum Corporation plans to build a chemical plant in the nearby town of Anning to produce 500,000 tonnes of paraxylene (PX) used to make fabric.

In response to the May 4 protest, local government held a series of meetings and promised that the refinery would not endanger the environment and that the public's opinion would be taken into account. The city's mayor Li Wenrong promised that the PX project would be canceled if the majority of residents are against it.

But officials said the environmental evaluation report of the project remains confidential. At the same time, Chinese microbloggers have reported that the government has tried to stop any future attempts to organize protests and ban any further questioning about the refinery. Employees at state-owned companies and students at schools have been asked to promise that they will not participate in protests and will not discuss the project in public.

May 16 sees another protest with skeptical residents calling on a stop on the project. (Image from Sina Weibo)

Banner reads, “Make the environmental evaluation report public. Against pollution.”  (Image from Sina Weibo)

However, the government's attempt failed to work as skeptical residents organized this latest protest calling for a stop on the project. Pictures of the protest and discussions about the project are updated on popular Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo.

“Maya Tansuozhe” remains skeptical about the government's claim that it won't affect the environment:

云南省环科院高级工程师周东风称,中石油炼油项目对昆明环境污染影响不大 --看到这则新闻忍不住吐槽,你们把滇池管成那样,还如何相信你们? 影响不大是多大? 许多环境污染具有不可逆性,到时候后悔都没地儿。一届政府的政绩,100年的治理代价,你负责得了吗?

Senior engineer Zhou Dongfeng from Yunnan Academy of Environmental Sciences said the chemical plant won't have a huge impact on Kunming's environment. After reading the news, I can't help but complain, look at what Dianchi lake is like under your management [pollution is a major problem for the lake nowadays.] How can I believe you again? A lot of environmental pollution is irreversible, it will be too late when you regret it. The performance of the current government will set a precedent for environmental governance in China for the next 100 years, will you be responsible for it?

“Huyan Luanyu” wrote [zh]:


On May 13, the Kunming government held an “earnest talk” with the representatives of the public and said public opinions about the refinery project would be taken into consideration. However, in the past few days, the urgent notice sent by schools and companies requesting the employees and students not participate in any protest is meant to ask the public to keep silent. Will the approach make people doubt the government information and their claim of listening to public opinion?

“Shaomai Tuo” from Kunming echoed the same sentiment:


Earnest talk ? On one side, they talk about listening to public opinions, on the other side, they order the police to suppress any threat! Buying masks to print promotional materials has to be registered; major enterprises and institutions all put up the notice to ban any parade or opinion; offenders will be expelled. This is China-style earnest talk, fake democracy, impeachment of public opinion!

“Abu Gougou 911″ wrote [zh]:


Without any reliable explanation or sincere attitude to solve problems, how can the public feel at ease.

“Lan Qinzi” said [zh]:


I heard that some departments and institutions in Kunming all request the employees to sign a guarantee not to participate in the march. In fact, I have no idea what is a better form of protest than peaceful marching. If walking is not even allowed, what others ways do people have to make their voices heard?

Director Wang Tingting from Beijing quoted a song from stage musical Les Miserables:

Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men! It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again! When the beating of your heart, echoes the beating of the drums. There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!

However, in commentary titled “PX protest, useless” by history professor and columnist Ye Tan from the Chinese version of the Wall Street Journal, she detailed [zh] her belief that the local government won't give up the project, a rare chance to speed up GDP growth despite the protest and the cost to the environment:

笔者尊重当地居民的选择权,佩服公民的抗争意识,但对中国的环保现状表示悲观,在产值、财富与青山绿水之间,地方政府的选择不言而喻。 昆明翠湖,群鸟飞翔,人鸟共乐,是中国大城市中极少看到的温馨景致,再过十年,这样的情景还能看得到吗?

I respect the option of local residents and admire their awareness to protest as citizens, however, I remain pessimistic about the status quo of China's environmental protection. Between output value, wealth, and beautiful mountains and rivers, the choice of the local government is self-evident. Kunming's green lake and birds is rare scenery in China's major cities, after another decade, will we still be able to see such scenery?


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