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Police start to charge in Maoming, Guangdong province on Sunday.

Did Environmental Protests Just Stop Planned Petrochemical Plant in China?

Following reports of brutal police crackdown, local government may halt proposal

Andrea Germanos

Protests over a planned petrochemical plant in China's Guangdong province may have brought the proposal to a halt.

Over one thousand people took part in a protest in Maoming on Sunday over the plant slated to produce paraxylene or PX, a chemical used in making plastics. The protest reportedly started off peaceful but turned violent, with reports of police using batons, tear gas and excessive force leading to several injured protesters.

"Accounts and photographs suggest that police may have used disproportionate force against demonstrators in Maoming," said Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch's China director.

Despite the harsh crackdown, the protest reportedly spread to the provincial capital of Guangzhou on Tuesday.

Reuters reported Wednesday

Authorities in a protest-stricken city in southern China have promised to communicate better with citizens battling plans for a chemical plant, after protesters complained that violence by law enforcement officials killed several and injured dozens.

Images of Sunday's violence, which surfaced on Chinese social media, but were later deleted by censors, triggered an outcry. The government has said no one was killed in the demonstrations, but it has not said if anyone was hurt.

City officials in Maoming, site of the proposed plant, held peaceful talks with protesters on Tuesday afternoon, the city government said in a statement on Wednesday.

"(The officials) chatted with them face to face, listened to their protests and opinions," it said, without acknowledging the demonstrators' complaints about the violence.

As of Wednesday, the environmental protest seems to have been successful in its aims.

From the Guardian:

Following protests that resulted in clashes between demonstrators and police, officials in a city in southern China have said plans for a controversial petrochemical plant will not go ahead if the majority of the city's residents object. [...]

The municipal government said that if the majority of residents object to it, the plant will not go ahead, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency. "We are at a stage of disseminating information relating to the paraxylene project," a municipal government spokesperson was quoted by Xinhua.

It is not the first time paraxylene has been the target of successful protests, as the New York Times reports:

The chemical and its production have been at the forefront of environmental protests in China. In 2007 demonstrators in Xiamen protested plans to build a PX plant in their coastal city and succeeded in having it moved inland. Their movement was cited as an inspiration for protests against chemical plants by residents in Dalian, Ningbo and Kunming.

Concern about the Maoming plant, which is a project of the local government and a local branch of the China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation, or Sinopec Limited, has been continuing for nearly five years, according to a report in the China Daily.

“We should learn from citizens in Xiamen to join hands to oppose such a chemical project that has a high potential of pollution,” a Maoming resident told the state-run newspaper in 2009.

"Maoming people are very unhappy," Dong, a local resident who took part in the Sunday protest, told the BBC. "Maoming has always been a chemical industrial city. Sometimes walking on the streets, you can't even escape from the awful smell discharged from the chemical plants."

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