Ningbo will ‘resolutely not have the PX project’

Unmentioned in almost every other newspaper in the country, but right in the middle of the front page of the Ningbo Daily (宁波日报) today is a brief announcement: Ningbo will resolutely not have the PX project.

After protests all of last week against an expansion project at a plant in the city that residents fear will pollute the environment , the paper reports laconically today that, “after further research was carried out”… the project will not go ahead but will be halted to enable further refinement and adjustment of the project based on scientific analysis.”

Ningbo thus now follows in the footsteps of Xiamen, Chengdu, Dalian and Shifang where protests by residents have in recent years resulted in the cancellation of similar plans to build polluting plants. Yet if you read the newspapers in China today, you would not have found the news from Ningbo on any other front page except the Ningbo Daily and one other publication: the Qilu Evening News from Shandong.

Ningbo was the scene last week for protests by residents of the city against a multi-billion yuan expansion project of an oil refinery and chemical plant by the Zhenhai Refining and Chemical Company, a subsidiary of the Chinese petrochemical giant Sinopec. Thousands of people took part in the protest against the project, which they believed would be spewing out more paraxylene, or PX, a hazardous hydrocarbon. Then on Sunday, following a meeting of the Ningbo city government, an official statement announced that the PX project would not go ahead.

In a short article that was printed on the front page of Ningbo Daily beneath the laconic announcement,  the newspaper describes exactly how the group of protesters reacted when told by journalists that the local government had shelved plans for the expansion project:

Hearing the news, the people felt gratified that the Party committee of the local government had carefully listened to the voice of the people, and had promptly acted in accordance with public opinion.

The only other paper that seemed to have reported much on the Ningbo protest and resolution is the Qilu Wanbao (齐鲁晚报) from Shandong.  The front page of this newspaper today likewise featured the short announcement that the PX project will not go ahead along with an article that provides more details on the protest and how it was resolved. Additionally, on page 2 the Qilu Wanbao printed its own commentary on the resolution of the Ningbo protest. The decision to cancel the expansion project, it said, reflected the government’s respect for public opinion. Yet the newspaper then reflects more deeply on the event:

Even though this issue has now been resolved, another related issue for us to consider now is whether incidents like these can be resolved before-hand. Because of the problem with PX, this same mass incident have already occurred in Xiamen, Dalian and other cities, and there is no way that Ningbo didn’t know about these incidents in other cities… This event has just reminded all government departments again that important policies must take public opinion into account early on with a smooth and unhindered process. If this does not happen it might result in unpredictable and costly consequences. Even though the projects at Xiamen, Dalian and Qidong were all different, they all point to the same reality: pay attention to the environment or risk alienating public opinion. 

So here is a quick run-down of the notable environmental ‘not in my backyard’ (NIMBY) protests in China in recent years, leading up to last week’s Ningbo protest:

  • June 2007: Anti-PX march in Xiamen against the planned construction of a toxic chemical plant in the city. An environmental assessment is ordered to determine the effects that the plant would have on the surrounding area
  • January 2008: Thousands of Shanghai residents protest against a proposed extension of the high-speed magnetic levitation ‘Maglev’ train
  • May 2008: 400-500 residents of Chengdu in Sichuan province protest a $5.5 billion ethylene plant under construction by PetroChina
  • August 2008: Beijing residents protest against the city’s biggest dump site which they claim is polluting the air with a foul stench and dangerous dioxins
  • August 2011: A chemical plant in Dalian in Liaoning province is closed down after thousands of protesters confront riot police, demanding that the plant be shut down due to safety concerns
  • July 2012: Protests in the city of Shifang in Sichuan province result in the cancellation of a copper project
  • July 2012: Tens of thousands of protesters in Qidong near Shanghai protest a sewage pipeline at a paper factory. Plans for the pipeline are shelved

Links and sources
China Media Project: Clubs and cameras: stability preservation in the age of Weibo
Qilu Evening News: 宁波:坚决不上PX项目
Qilu Evening News: PX,上也得明白下也得明白
Ningbo Daily: 坚决不上PX项目充分体现民意
Ningbo Daily: 宁波坚决不上PX项目
Global Times: Ningbo backs down from PX project
New York Times: Protests Over Chemical Plant Force Chinese Officials to Back Down
New York Times: China Moves Swiftly to Close Chemical Plant After Protests
Danwei: Citizens air opinions on the Xiamen PX project
Danwei: Official media on popular opinion in the Xiamen PX affair
Danwei: NIMBY protest hits Chengdu
Washington Post: Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt
The Guardian: Chinese protesters return to streets after Olympics

Additionally, this map of sites that produce PX in China appeared on Weibo, posted by @李蒙记者

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