Category Archives: environment

“Taking It to the Street in China”

This NYT piece was the best one I saw about the Qidong protests, which rocked a town near Shanghai last week:

On Saturday, thousands of angry residents of Qidong, a seaport town near Shanghai, decided they weren’t going to take it anymore. They took to the streets to protest the government’s plan to dump wastewater from a paper mill into their harbor, as my colleague Jane Perlez reported. They ransacked municipal offices, overturned cars and fought with the police. Striking photos of the unrest are here.

City officials quickly announced the waste-discharge plan would be canceled. Score one, maybe, for people power.

Although there are tens of thousands of civic protests every year in China, most are small-scale, ineffectual and officially smothered. But high profile demonstrations over environmental issues are occurring with more regularity, size, violence and political oomph — in Dalian (a petrochemical plant), in Zuotan (land grabs) and earlier this month in Shifang (a heavy-metals smelter). Deadly floods and a feeble government response in Beijing last week also led to a huge outcry online.

Elizabeth C. Economy, a senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that all over China now “citizens are making their voices heard on the Internet and their actions felt on the streets.”

In a piece on the council’s Asia Unbound blog, she said that Li Yuanchao, one of China’s most powerful leaders and a presumptive candidate for the Standing Committee of the Politburo, recently lectured Communist Party officials that they should “understand and comply with the will of the people.”

His message is one that has been often delivered by party bosses, “apparently to little effect,” Ms. Economy said.

As one microblogger said of the bloody Shifang protests this month: “The government has repeatedly squandered the people’s patience. It is time for us to be independent.” As we reported on Rendezvous at the time, the police warned that anyone using the Internet, cellphones or text messages to spread news about the protest would be “severely punished.”

A university student from Beijing, Yueran Zhang, says in a thoughtful essay published Sunday on Tea Leaf Nation that public skepticism and online rumor-swapping have become the new normal in China whenever government officials are confronted with crises.

Government response to a recent deadly shopping mall fire, for example, “exacerbated netizen rumors and doubts,” Mr. Zhang says. Government officers shunted journalists away from hospital interviews with the injured, and lawyers needed official permission before giving interviews.

“Those measures led to the inevitable online speculation,” Mr. Zhang says, “that government was concealing a terrible truth.”

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“China’s Young and Restless Could Test Legal System”

Stanley Lubman looks at what we learned from Shifang in this WSJ piece:

The Shifang protests are notable because of their size, their success in derailing a major project for environmental reasons and also because they reportedly involved the participation of a significant number of students. The protests may augur both a growing public anger over environmental degradation and a rise of political activism among China’s younger generation – trends that could lead in turn to an increase in legal challenges to the arbitrary behavior of local governments.

Writing in the Journal of Contemporary China, Benjamin van Rooij offers a good summary of the numerous obstacles to effective enforcement of environmental standards in China. Among them: A lack of information about procedures and costs associated with environmental litigation; the unwillingness of courts to accept cases in deference to the wishes of local governments; unresponsiveness from administrative institutions such as petitions offices and environmental protection bureaus; and the willingness of police to use force in repressing demonstrations.

Despite, or perhaps because of, difficulties in litigation, citizen outcries against projects deemed hostile to the environment appear to be on the rise. The newly visible participation of members of China’s young generation in the Shifang events may signal the rise of a new politically savvy generation. As recent story by Financial Times notes, the Shifang protest “has revealed a potentially important shift in the country’s politics: youth were at the forefront of the three-day demonstration, exposing a new vein of activism in a generation seen by many as apathetic.”

Contrary to popular perception inside China, the Financial Times argues that members the so-called post-‘90 generation are more politically active than their predecessors. They tend to be highly educated, and they also face less social mobility than in the two preceding generations. They also have grown up with more access to information, which has heightened their political awareness.

But as prominent Chinese environmental activist Ma Jun noted in a recent interview with business magazine Caixin, protests alone will not lead to long-term resolution of the country’s environmental problems. What’s needed, he says, is “ to liberalize environmental litigation and allow activists to speak in public. Right now, this channel is essentially shut off….the solutions to environmental problems must be legalized.”

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“A Violent New Tremor in China’s Heartland”

IHT’s Rendezvous Blog on the Shifang protests:

“It is the 4th of July — 236 years ago, America achieved independence and 236 years later, the Shifang people are fighting for their own rights and confronting the government,” said an unidentified microblogger who was quoted by Reuters on Wednesday.

“The government has repeatedly squandered the people’s patience. It is time for us to be independent.”

The police warned that anyone using the Internet, cellphones or text messages to spread news about the protest would be “severely” punished. But there was a flood of photos and microblog posts, plus some video, and a widely circulated piece from Han Han, perhaps China’s most famous blogger.

As my colleague Keith Bradsher reported, the Shifang protest was the most-searched subject Tuesday on Sina Weibo, “despite what appeared to be the deleting of postings by censors.”

A Weibo microblogger named Lychee, who said her foot had been cut to the bone in the melee, wrote, “We simply hope that our hometown is free from pollution. That’s all. Is that too much to ask?!”

Shifang and its surrounding towns were heavily damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed some 70,000 people. Since then, the central government has invested heavily to rebuild the Shifang area, the official news agency Xinhua has reported, although anger over shoddy school construction in the province led to sharp confrontations between the parents of dead schoolchildren and government officials.

Many mourning ceremonies turned into protests, until the government began to forcefully stifle the demonstrations.

In the long term, however, the elite could be in trouble if Chinese citizens come to believe they can mobilize effectively around environmental concerns — or any other collective complaint like food safety, official corruption, land grabs, housing prices, forced abortions, a growing wealth gap, Internet censorship, you name it.

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“Han Han: The Liberation of Shifang”

CDT has a translation from a post by Han Han on the subject of Shifang, a city in Sichuan which has been rocked by protests after the government initially ignored concerns about a new industrial complex:

I think back to my hometown, the village of Tinglin, in Shanghai’s chemical industries district of Jinshan. I saw how a place of clear waters, quaint houses and clean air became what it is today. In ten years–it only took ten years–the river looked like dye and air smelled like poison. When the government wanted to develop pollution-heavy industries, it told the villagers that the GDP needed to grow. It needed more tax revenue to make everyone happy. Ten years later, quality of life hasn’t gotten any better, but now we’re breathing bad air. The river is a horrible sight, changing colors seven times a week. You can tell which day of the week it is just by looking at the river. The people of Tinglin have chosen to endure all this because the environmental department’s reports show that everything is up to standard. Of course, if you have no limits, anything is standard. But have you seen water so bad that even crawfish can’t live in it?

And so I want to tell the Shifang government that this is not an earthquake, this is not an emergency. People’s requests for improving their environment must be respected. You leaders change every few years. You take on environmental destruction with nice-looking certificates of achievement. If you do well you get promoted, if you don’t you get jail. The best of you emigrate, the worst of you are shot. But none of you actually live in the pollution. Only ordinary people live there. Even though you already stopped the plan to mine molybdenum copper, I think the pent-up public anger this project released comes from a deep-rooted animus that’s about more than molybdenum copper. The proposed plant started it, but now it has become a mass incident. I hope that the people’s resistance can proceed in a rational, smart and safe way. You should seek negotiation. Don’t suppress the movement, don’t give people an excuse to mob, riot, steal, break and loot.

I also want to tell the Shifang government that your decision to disperse the crowd was too sudden and excessive. I can understand that as a local government, you have no experience dealing with this kind of mass incident. Once you see the government offices surrounded by people, and the sign that was over the door broken on the ground, of course you feel annoyed. You look down at the people and then up at the calendar, oh gosh, it’s the Organization’s birthday.* The whole situation feels bad, and it’s happening on the wrong day, and something terrible will happen, and you might lose your position, and so you conclude that you must disperse the crowd before anything else. These people are not even celebrating the Birthday, so fine, you bust it up, they’re not giving you any face. I can imagine the order from the policy-makers: “Settle this as soon as possible.” Then the ones carrying out orders think, “As soon as possible… disperse… got it… dial 0101…” And so there’s no room left for the most basic exchange of words. Could it be that you’re treating the people’s anger at environmental destruction like an epidemic, to be stamped out in one day? No need for talk, just throw the tear gas? Having gone through Wenchuan, don’t you know that the more emotions build up, the bigger the explosion? When people release their anger, even if it’s over the top or started by someone from the outside, can’t you take it on good faith? You’d rather pepper spray them? So this is how the police connect with the people, by crying pepper spray tears with them?

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TibetWatch: April 19th

By my count it has been more than two weeks since the last self-immolation in Tibet itself, but two immolations in Dzamthang yesterday have broken the lull (via RFA):

Two Tibetan cousins set themselves ablaze Thursday in protest over Chinese rule in a Tibetan-populated area of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, according to exile sources.

“Local Tibetans and monks tried to douse the flames and took the two to their homes, but their chances of survival are slim,” he said, identifying the two as Choephak Kyab and Sonam. “There was a gathering among Tibetans later. Police and other security forces arrived and then communications were cut off.”

The self-immolations on Thursday brought to 35 the number of Tibetans who had burned themselves since February 2009 to back demands for an end to Chinese rule and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Twenty-five have died of severe burns.

Aside from Sichuan, the burnings also triggered street protests in the other Tibetan-populated provinces of Qinghai and Gansu as Tibetans questioned Chinese policies which they say are discriminatory and have robbed them of their rights.

The Dalai Lama last week blamed Beijing’s “totalitarian” and “unrealistic” policies for the wave of self-immolations, saying the time has come for the Chinese authorities to take a serious approach to resolving the Tibetan problem.

Also, RFA and TCHRD are reporting that a school in Kardze has been closed for being just a little bit too Tibetan:

Chinese authorities in Sichuan province have closed a school linked to the promotion and teaching of the Tibetan language, detaining two of the school’s teachers and warning Tibetans living in the area not to attempt to reopen the facility, according to an exile source.

The school, which was established in 1987 in the Rongpo Tsa township with approval from Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) county authorities, was closed on April 2, a monk living in South India said, citing contacts in the region.

“The school’s efforts toward preserving Tibetan language and culture had annoyed the local authorities,” the source said, adding that two of the school’s teachers—Nyendak, 51, and Yama Tsering, 36—had been detained by the police.

Though language protests in Tibetan areas have been treated in the past as local issues resulting from a “misunderstanding” of government policy, “it is only a matter of time, really, before these issues will be treated in a much more serious way,” Barnett said.

“We’re in a climate now where that’s actually extremely likely, that almost everything will be treated as a political challenge [caused by] outside instigation.”

Finally for today, the Tibetan Plateau Blog has a lengthy post describing a concrete instance of something Tibetans have alleged for years- that nomad resettlement campaigns, ostensibly put in place to protect the environment, are actually being done to clear the way for mining companies:

The establishment of protected nature reserves is a time-tested method of asserting state authority over territories and peoples that were previously subject to weak control. Whether it is in the name of protecting tigers in India, forests in Central America or headwaters in Tibet, the creation of protected parks come with coercive laws that limit the rights of people who live in and around the designated area.

Often the discourse on protected parks portrays them as benign environmental projects. However, on the dark side, protected parks and nature reserves frequently introduce mechanisms for social control and facilitate resource development and eco-tourism plans. It is little wonder that between 1980 and 2003, China has established 70 nature reserve parks in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

They go on to examine a park system in place in Tibet, where the exact areas that were originally sealed off for grassland revitalization have now been given to gold-mining companies.

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Filed under environment, ethnic conflict, nomads, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

“Why is Batang County Experiencing so Many Power Cuts?”

High Peaks Pure Earth is still plugging along with the Woeser translations, now reaching the point where she and husband Wang Lixiong reach Batang in Kham:

When I was travelling through Kham last Summer, I went to Batang with a special purpose. On our way from Lithang to Batang we drove on muddy roads, passing through vast grasslands, my friend who was driving said that the the conditions were even worse than on the Xinjiang-Tibet highway, which is referring to the road linking Kargilik (Xinjiang) and the northern Tibetan town of Ngari. But even on this muddy road, we still saw Han Chinese tourists on self-drive tours with their off-road vehicles being decorated with the Chinese flag. 106 years ago, Zhao Erfeng who led military troops into the area to suppress Batang also passed by this area. I realised that the police car was still following us.

As it is the case in many places in Tibet, wherever we find mountains, there is mining, wherever there is water, we find hydroelectric power plants, and wherever there are mountains and water, as for example in Batang, we find mining and hydroelectric power plants. When we arrived at the Batang county town it was already getting dark but the whole city was without electricity, only a few shops and hotels used generators for lighting. It was summer, the nicest season, why was there no electricity? After we had found a hotel to stay, we asked some locals about this and came to know that they were currently building a hydroelectric power plant inside Batang. For this reason, all electricity supply was used at the construction site and, as a result, since the beginning of 2010, there have been many power cuts in the city, causing much inconvenience to its inhabitants. Subsequently, many retired cadres went to the regional government to express their dissatisfaction, saying that people wanted to watch TV in the evening, upon which the power cuts happened largely during the day and electricity came back between 7 and 11 in the evening.

But of course, retired cadres weren’t the only people who were dissatisfied. Whenever I mentioned this problem to local Batang people, I was immediately infected by their deep anxiety. Power cuts, even for several years, are not that bad but what is really terrible are the consequences of the excessive building of hydroelectric power plants. For example, in summer 2010, Drugchu County experienced severe landslides, which were not only related to the heavy rainstorms but actually more to the destruction of the environment. Excessive deforestation, excessive excavation of mountains, violent breaking up of rivers by hydroelectric power plants of different sizes, all this has in the name of “development” represented an extreme plundering of natural resources, resulting in Drugchu County to perish miserably; and this will also lead to other similar places being confronted with the same danger. Whenever I mentioned Drugchu County, Batang people were in a state of lingering fear.

As always, a good read.

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“Tibetan Villagers Clash With Police”

Yet more bad news from Tibet, this time from Amdo:

Chinese police have shot and killed a Tibetan man accused of stealing tents from a controversial construction site, triggering clashes between villagers and security forces in China’s northwestern Gansu province, local sources said Tuesday.

The clashes took place on Monday, a day after the shooting in Labrang county resulted in Tibetan protesters overrunning a police station, the sources said.

Additional security forces were called in and used tear gas to contain the protests, with many Tibetans injured and detained, according to the sources.

“On the night of Jan. 8, a group of Chinese police and security officials came to Nanba township in Labrang Achog in Labrang [in Chinese, Xiahe] county in Gansu, and shot Gurgo Tseten,” a local Tibetan said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tseten had been visiting the family of another man, Gonpo Kyab, who was detained and taken away by police, the source said.

Chinese police suspected the two men of taking two tents that had been pitched at a site where the Chinese authorities are planning to build an airstrip despite protests by local Tibetans who claim the area is sacred, the man said.

“The Chinese authorities were planning to build an airstrip on the side of Amnye Gong Ngo mountain,” revered by Tibetans as a sacred site, the source said.

“Local Tibetans objected and resisted the project … residents of the Achog area also launched a strong protest.”

Following the shooting, Tibetans ransacked the police station in nearby Achog Ngago township, damaging windows and doors, the source said.

“All the local police fled to the county center. Then special forces arrived in the area in 22 vehicles on the morning of Jan. 9.”

After an initial clash in which police fired tear gas, “many Tibetans were taken into custody, and many were injured,” the source said, adding that some police were also injured and that two or three vehicles were burned.

“Now, more armed police have arrived and are surrounding Ngago township,” he said.

Before Gurgo Tseten was shot, area residents were already angered by the death in police custody of a young Tibetan who was detained while traveling by motorbike to Labrang, the source said.

“When there was a scuffle, the police beat him and held him in custody while his injuries went untreated. As a result, he succumbed to his injuries and died.”

For now, the Chinese security forces surrounding the town are only watching and have not made a further assault, he said.

“However, the Tibetans fear that they may be waiting for some order from above to crack down.”

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