By BRIAN SPEGELE
BEIJING -- Tensions were running high on Saturday in at
least two Chinese cities as opposition grew against planned
industrial facilities, the latest examples of
growing public environmental concerns over large industrial projects that officials say are
needed for economic growth.
In the southwest city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan
province, photos posted to China's Weibo microblogging service
showed crowds of perhaps more than a thousand flooding downtown
streets. The state-run Xinhua news agency confirmed
the protest, reporting that a crowd of at least several hundred
had formed by mid-afternoon on Saturday.
Meanwhile in Chengdu, the capital of neighboring Sichuan and
a key inland industrial center, officials have been working in
recent days to head off potential protests against a planned
nearby oil refinery as well.
Photos on Weibo showed heightened police presence in the city
on Saturday, and it wasn't immediately clear whether any
protest had broken out there as in Kunming. The photos couldn't
immediately be verified.
Growing environmental activism among urban Chinese has
emerged as a key concern for senior Chinese leaders, and a
headache for state oil executives who need to develop greater
oil and gas infrastructure to produce everything from gasoline
for growing numbers of Chinese cars to plastics and chemicals
needed for the textiles industry.
The protest in Kunming follows a similar uprising against a
planned refinery expansion in the eastern city of
Ningbo last year. Protests there lasted for days, and local
officials eventually promised to suspend a planned expansion of the industrial
Saturday's protest in Kunming was directed against a planned
refinery in the nearby city of Anning. In particular,
protesters in Kunming, as in Ningbo, opposed production of the
chemical paraxylene, known as PX. The chemical is an important
building block in the production of plastics and other goods.
Xinhua reported the facility will produce 500,000 tpy
But high levels of exposure can irritate the eyes and cause
respiratory discomfort, according to US government and industry
"Anning refinery, do not turn our home into
hell," read one sign carried by protesters in Kunming,
according to Xinhua. Photos on Weibo showed
demonstrators wearing facemasks in symbolic protest.
Repeated and aggressive demonstrations in recent months
against planned industrial facilities has highlighted public
mistrust of state-owned enterprises and their ability to
develop industry in an environmentally-responsible
Environmental consciousness among ordinary Chinese has risen
further in recent months after a spate of severe air pollution
blanketed large swaths of the country this winter.
Premier Li Keqiang acknowledged the severity of China's
environmental crisis in March, and has vowed tougher measures
to deal with polluters.
Meanwhile in Chengdu, 400 miles northeast of Kunming, local
officials in recent days have worried that protests against a
planned refinery and petrochemical in the nearby city of
Pengzhou. The new facilities near Kunming and Chengdu
are both being planned by state oil giant China National
A statement dated Thursday by CNPC subsidiary Sichuan Petrochemical said as a state-owned
enterprise, the company had an obligation to complete the project in a socially responsible
way. CNPC's planned refinery in Pengzhou will be able to
process around 200,000 bpd of oil.
The project, according to the company
statement, would "genuinely and sincerely serve the Sichuan
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