August 01st, 2012 | Shanghai Daily Protests on increase as tolerance wears thin
DECADES as the world’s manufacturing hub has taken its toll on China as the country struggles to balance economic growth and the fallout from environmental pollution.
Last Saturday, the government in the eastern city of Nantong canceled an industrial waste pipeline project hours after thousands of angry residents protested in Qidong – a city administered by Nantong and the site of the project.
The weekend demonstration turned violent after some protesters forced their way into the city government compound, where they overturned vehicles and threw documents out of windows.
Though the crowd disbanded after the cancellation was announced, the incident, the latest in a series of similar protests, has stirred nationwide discontent and stoked calls for expanded citizen rights and sufficient consultation with local residents when assessing the environmental impact of proposed industrial projects.
China has entered a new era when people’s tolerance toward polluting projects keeps shrinking, said Xie Shaodong, deputy head of the Environmental Sciences and Engineering College of Peking University.
“According to international practice, it usually takes eight months to a year to gather public opinions when assessing a project’s environmental impact. However, many local governments and companies try to finish the process in just one month,” Xie said.
Last Saturday’s protest followed similar demonstrations against industrial projects in the southwestern city of Shifang earlier last month and in the northeastern city of Dalian last year.
Data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection showed that the number of mass demonstrations related to environmental concerns has increased at an annual rate of 30 percent.
More Chinese people are becoming aware of environmental risks.
In the eastern province of Zhejiang, the government receives 50,000 to 60,000 petitions about such concerns annually, said Xu Zhen, director of the provincial environmental protection bureau.
Environmental concerns, along with land grabs and labor disputes, are the three biggest factors resulting in social conflict in China, said Shan Guangnai, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.