Chinese authorities crack down on petrochemical plant protesters

 The Chinese authorities have clamped down on all information related to a protest movement against a petrochemical plant in Maoming, southern China. On Sunday, a march had led to clashes with the police. 


A protest in Maoming against aplanned paraxylene plant. Photo shared via WeChat.



The Chinese authorities have clamped down on all information related to a protest movement against a petrochemical plant in Maoming, southern China. On Sunday, a march led to clashes with the police.


The industrial city of Maoming, in Guangdong province, is already home to several refineries belonging to Sinopec, a public company. The announcement of a forthcoming Sinopec factory that would produce paraxylene (PX), a petroleum-based chemical product, has caused a great deal of concern from local residents. They fear the consequences that a new plant might have on their health and the environment.


"Maoming, I love you when your air is pure". Photo shared on WeChat.


Most amateur photos showing the protest against the project have been deleted from the microblogging social network Sina Weibo while searches for "Maoming" have also been blocked on the site. These photos, which could still be shared thanks to instant messaging services, show protesters brandishing signs against the project and the subsequent violent clashes with the police.


In a series of online announcements Monday, the local government called the protest "a serious violation of the law that severely hurts the social order" while denying rumours on the Internet that several people died during the clashes. The city of Maoming and the local branch of Sinopec have not responded to FRANCE 24's inquiries.


Police response to the protest. Video shared via WeChat.


According to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, paraxylene can cause headaches, vertigo, and nausea when inhaled. While certain products used in production (such as benzene) can cause cancer, testing on animals has proven inconclusive on whether paraxylene truly increases cancer risk for humans.


In June 2013, an article in the official journal "The People's Daily" claimed that paraxylene, used in particular to produce plastic bottles, was "no more carcinogenic than coffee". This editorial was published following a wave of protests against a paraxylene factory in Kunming, in southwestern China. Over the last few years, several similar projects across China have been met with fierce opposition from local residents.


A wounded protester being evacuated. Photo shared via WeChat.

"Our only wish is to live in a clean environment with blue skies overhead"

Our Observer, a resident of Maoming who wishes to remain anonymous, hopes that the anti-PX movement in her city will lead to the same result as that in the northeastern city of Dalian in 2011, where protests caused local authorities to move a planned petrochemical plant elsewhere.


Because of the presence of several ethylene and petroleum refineries in our city, the air is already very polluted. Many residents suffer from rhinitis [irritation and inflammation of the nasal mucus membranes]. So how can we live with this additional factory, which is planned for construction only a few dozen kilometres from the city's downtown?


On Sunday, many people went to protest peacefully against this new petrochemical plant, but the gathering was suddenly attacked by military police. They hit anything that moved, and I saw many protesters with bloody faces. Some stayed in the street all night. They burned police vehicles, tore down barricades and destroyed traffic lights. I heard there were deaths but we don't know what really happened.


On Monday, the families of the injured organised a new protest. These people did not deserve to be beaten, and I am very disappointed by the authorities' reaction. They sent additional back-up police on Monday. We do not want our protests to turn violent; we only wish to live in a clean environment with blue skies overhead. I hope that the local government will listen to us and that it will decide against this project, for the good of the people of Maoming.


Protesters face a police line. Photo shared via WeChat.


Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Man Ho Kam(@kam_manho).