Violent protests against planned paraxylene (PX) plant in Maoming, Guangdong, China

Industrial conflicts and pollution while the local government allegedly seeks a balance between "development and stability"


Description
Protests against a proposed paraxylene (PX) plant in Maoming, Guangdong, caught the attention of national and international media for its intensity and scale. On the first day of the protests (30 March, 2014), hundreds of protests appeared on the streets, with clashes with police and reports of tear gas being launched at protesters. Many were injured, with photos on social media circulating images of police chasing protesters with batons. The Maoming government has called the unauthorised protest "a serious offence" and urged residents to "trust the government and not give illegal elements the opportunity to cause chaos” [1]. The reported turnout was reported to have reached 1000 people. A follow-up protest to the protest on Sunday was much larger, according according to a report from Radio Free Asia based on eyewitness accounts. “I am here at the scene right now, and there are probably upwards of 20,000 people here [outside the government buildings in Maoming],” one source said [2]. A key feature of the Maoming protests has been its geographical spread, since it effectively branched out to Guangzhou (the capital of Guangdong province) on Tuesday and even reached Shenzhen on Thursday, though the 20 protesters who had gathered were quickly “taken away by police” (ibid). In response to the protests, deputy mayor Luo Yueliang stated at a news conference that "there is no timetable yet for the PX project [3]. We won't kick off construction without reaching a consensus among residents”, appealing to the economic growth that the PX plant would bring to the local economy. Some residents voiced their mistrust in the the authorities' assurances that their protests would be heard. "If they are telling the truth, why has not a single official dared to come out to talk to us face to face?" said a Maoming resident who was at the demonstration yesterday (ibid). There has also been widespread censorship on social media platforms across China, with Sina Weibo being a key example. However, People’s Daily now has a special section [Chinese] devoted to the happenings in Maoming—albeit with a heavy emphasis on refuting the rumors about the number of dead and injured [2]. A subsection of the page contains photos of various newspapers bearing headlines reporting deaths in Maoming, as well as graphic pictures of bloody bodies (ibid). The PX protests represent an ongoing dilemma for local governments in China that are facing mounting protests from China’s increasingly educated and wealthy middle-class. An English-language article in Xinhua described the protests as exemplifying “the quandary for a local government seeking a balance between development and stability” [4].
Basic Data
NameViolent protests against planned paraxylene (PX) plant in Maoming, Guangdong, China
CountryChina
ProvinceGuangdong
SiteMaoming
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Chemical industries
Urban development conflicts
Specific CommoditiesChemical products
paraxylene (PX)
Project Details and Actors
Level of Investment (in USD)559,243,930
Type of PopulationUrban
Start Date30/03/2014
End Date04/04/2014
Company Names or State EnterprisesChina Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec ) from China - Developer
Relevant government actorsMaoming, Guangdong and Shenzhen local authorities; deputy mayor of Maoming Luo Yueliang
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersConcerned Chinese netizens and local residents
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingNeighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of MobilizationMedia based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Fires, Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
OtherThe main effect of inhaling xylene vapor is depression of the central nervous system, with symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, which can occur with exposure up to air levels of about 100 ppm. [...] Long term exposure can lead to depression, insomnia, agitation, extreme tiredness, tremors, impaired concentration and short-term memory. [...] At very high levels of exposure, xylene can injure the liver and kidneys, with the damage being irreversible. [...] Xylene inhaled by a woman can reach a developing fetus and can contaminate her breast milk" [5]
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Project cancelled
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The government has shelved the plan for now, but it is unclear whether the protesters' voices and opinions will be heard and taken into consideration in future plans for such projects.
Sources and Materials
References

The Maoming Anti-PX Protest of 2014
An environmental movement in contemporary China
[click to view]

Links

[1] China Maoming environmental protest violence condemned
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[2] Maoming Protests Continue in Southern China
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[3] Shenzhen becomes third city to join protests over Maoming chemical plant
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[4] Xinhua Insight: PX protests expose government struggle between development, stability
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[5] Xylene: An overview of its health hazards and preventive measures
[click to view]

Other Documents

Portests in Maoming, Guangdong province Source: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/chinas-choice/2014/apr/01/china-environment-protests-px
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorEJOLT team at School of Geography and China Centre, University of Oxford
Last update12/04/2016
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