BEIJING — After a weekend of protests, Chinese authorities capitulated to thousands of well-organized middle-class demonstrators and canceled plans for the expansion of a petrochemical plant in a small coastal city near Shanghai.
Sinopec, the state oil monopoly, had been planning an $8 billion expansion of an industrial complex in Zhenhai suspected of raising cancer rates in Zhenhai.
“With living standards going up, people want not only fresh air and clean water, they want a stronger voice about what’s happening around them,” said Timothy Tang, a 29-year-old working in finance who was involved in the protests in Ningbo, a larger city that administers Zhenhai.
Protest organizers said they had been encouraged by a similar uprising last year in Dalian, where middle-class protesters managed to stop a plant that would produce paraxylene, a toxic petrochemical used in the manufacturing of plastic bottles and polyester.
“This chemical became notorious after the Dalian protests, and we thought we needed to take action as well,” Tang said. “The local government made concessions after only two days of protests so they must have faced strong pressure from Beijing to wrap things up fast.”
The Communist Party opens a weeklong congress on Nov. 8 in Beijing to announce China’s new leadership lineup, and the country is under a security lockdown throughout.
“All government departments and local residents need to maintain social stability and create a great environment for the grand opening of the 18th Party Congress,” Ningbo’s party secretary, Wang Huizuo, said in a statement posted on Monday on the local government website.
The official Ningbo Daily on Monday hailed the decision by the local government as reflecting the “people’s will.”
At the height of the demonstrations on Saturday, as many as 5,000 people converged on local government offices. Although at one point they threw bottles and other objects at police, the protesters were more orderly than most, reflecting the large number of middle-class home-owners and women in the crowd.
“People in the crowd got very emotional and took some unnecessary actions,” said Yu Xiaoming, who participated in negotiations with local government. “But we’re satisfied now that the issue is resolved.”
Along with land confiscations, environmental concerns have been a major trigger for violent protest in China.
This month, homeowners — with similar not-in-my-backyard views — poured into the streets in a small town in Hainan to protest against a coal-fired power plant.