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 facility.
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 tons of paraxylene annually.
But high levels of exposure can irritate the eyes and cause respiratory discomfort, according to U.S. government and industry reports.
"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 manner. 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 Petroleum Corp (CNPC.YY).
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 barrels of oil a day.
The project, according to the company statement, would "genuinely and sincerely serve the Sichuan people."
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