China: victory for anti-pollution protesters

The mayor of Xiantao in central China's Hubei province announced suspension of a waste incinerator project after a wave of protests—but residents continue to take to the streets in defiance of authorities. Mayor Zhou Wenxia in a rare public address announcing the suspension June 26 urged residents not to attend "illegal gatherings" or engage in "irrational actions." Some 10,000 people nonetheless filled the streets. Protests have conintued since then, with several injured in clashes with riot police. Authorities have flooded Xiantao with riot troops and placed restrictions on use of instant messaging and the Internet to organize "illegal gatherings" and demonstrations.

An unnamed Xiantao official told Reuters that the proposed plant's emissions of the toxic chemical dioxin would have been in line with EU standards. But China has seen numerous ecological protests against such projects in recent years. Last year saw protests against plans to construct a chemical plant in Jinshan, oustide Shanghai. Tens of thousands of "mass incidents"—the official euphemism for protests—occur in China each year. (Yibada, June 29)

A report by the International Energy Agency estimates severe air pollution, mostly from the energy sector, has shortened life expectancy in China by an average 25 months. The report estimates that 97% of Chinese are exposed to ­concentrations of PM2.5—the tiny particles most hazardous to health—above World Health Organization guidelines. Every year, about one million premature deaths in the country could be linked to air pollution, according to the agency’s first study on the question. (SCMP, June 30)

Protests were also reported this week from the fishing village of Wukan, Guangdong, which made international headlines in 2011 when it launched an uprising over land-grabbing by corrupt local officials. The 2011 protests resulted in provincial authorities sacking the former village chief and allowing fresh elections that saw many protest leaders elected. Now, more than 1,000 residents marched to demand release of the village chief and former protest leader Lin Zuluan, who was detained in a police raid. Supporters say the corruption charges against him were trumped up because he continued to press for restoration of usurped lands. The village has been surrounded by riot troops and paramilitary police.

Video footage of the Wukan demonstrations show youth waving red flags chanting their support for the Communist Party—possibly to give their protest an acceptable face. Lin Zuluan's official post was local Communist Party secretary. (Reuters, SCMP, June 20)

Among the many recent "mass incidents" have been peasant protests against land-grabbing across China. Authorities are augmenting the police apparatus and have unleashed a crackdown on rights lawyers amid apparent fear of a social explosion.

  1. More protests in Wukan ‘democracy village’

    Police have arrested 13 people in the Guangdong village of Wukan after 85 days of villagers’ demonstrations calling for the release of their jailed leader, Lin Zuluan. In the early morning of Sept. 13, SWAT teams broke down doors and arrested 13 people in the village, according to sources cited by Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao. Police used tear-gas to disperse angry villages. (HKFP) Footage of riot police clashing with protests is online at the Stand News Facebook page.