More militant anti-pollution protests in China

Another factory forced to halt operation by heroic Chinese peasants protecting their lands from the industrial onslaught. We question how “violent” it is to tear down a security fence. In contrast, the security forces’ response to the rising tide of peasant protest seems to be quite genuinely violent. From AP, July 19:

Violent protest by Chinese farmers forces shutdown of chemical plant
SHANGHAI, China – Farmers angered by toxic factory discharge they blame for destroying crops have attacked a pharmaceutical plant in eastern China, officials said Tuesday, the latest rural clash sparked corruption, pollution and other problems.

Protests that began July 4 have forced a halt in production at the Jinxing Pharmaceutical plant in Xinchang, a town about 125 miles south of Shanghai, according to its director’s secretary, Xu Xiaoming. Several hundred protesters were involved, Xu said.

Xu said local farmers were angry over pollution but wouldn’t give further details. However, the Chinese financial news Web site said polluted water released by factories in the area has destroyed crops and caused health problems.

A Xinchang police spokeswoman said villagers again protested over the weekend.

China has suffered a series of such protests in its vast, impoverished countryside, home to about 800 million people – most of whom have not shared in the country’s economic boom.

Protesters frequently complain about incompetent or corrupt local governments, the seizure of farmland for real estate development, pollution and other problems.

“On July 4, some farmers from the nearby villages got together and attacked our factory,” Xu told The Associated Press by telephone.

Villagers pushed down a boundary wall and attacked a building used by factory security, Xu said. He said production has been suspended since July 4 and the plant has been unable to make deliveries.

“The direct loss is not very big actually, since they did no harm to the plant and our equipment,” Xu said. “But this event affects our production.”

He said government officials were negotiating with the farmers, but added: “I don’t have any idea when we can resume production.”

A local businessman said factory managers had refused farmers’ demands for compensation for ruined crops, claiming the factory met all Chinese and international pollution control standards.

“Xinchang is a small town with very intensive development of pharmaceutical and chemical plants,” the man said by phone on condition of anonymity. “Pollution is always a big problem for the villagers and local government.”

A Xinchang police spokeswoman said villagers again protested over the weekend after authorities gave the plant permission to process into pharmaceuticals some 1,000 tons of chemicals that were growing dangerously unstable in the summer heat.

“Police were sent to protect the plant on Friday night. There were many villagers who didn’t understand the situation and gathered outside the plant shouting,” said the woman, who refused to give other details of the incidents or her name.

She said police have been broadcasting notices on local television telling people the plant had not formally resumed production.

Officials reached by phone at Xinchang’s county government refused to answer questions. People who answered phone calls to homes and businesses in the area said they didn’t know about any clashes after the July 4 incident.

Xinchang is in Zhejiang province, where at least 30 people were injured in an April clash between police and villagers who set up bamboo huts in an industrial complex to protest pollution.

Farmers in that area, near the city of Dongyang, also complained that water pollution was ruining their crops.

In northern China last month, six people were killed when as many as 300 men armed with guns, clubs and knives stormed a shantytown built by protesting villagers on land being confiscated for a power station. State media said two Communist Party officials were under investigation over the incident in Hebei province.

A top party official said this month that such incidents were fueled by graft and incompetence among local party figures.

“It is true that with regard to our grass-roots cadres, some of them probably are less competent,” said Li Jingtian, deputy director of the party’s powerful Organization Department.

Such officials, Li said, are “not able to dissipate those conflicts or problems that have triggered the mass incidents.”

See also the coverage from today’s New York Times.

See our last post on anti-pollution protests in China, and the general political dilemmas of China’s rapid industrialization.