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Concern grows in China over violent pollution protests

world Updated: Jul 31, 2012 00:23 IST
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Concern is growing in China about potentially polluting industrial projects that have seen thousands pouring out on streets to protest without any apparent fear of government reprisal.

The latest was in the eastern China city of Qidong last week where demonstration turned violent over the planned construction of waste pipeline for Japan-funded paper mill factory; a local government office was ransacked and several cars were damaged during weekend protests.

The project has been suspended but it hasn't stopped the state-run media - perceived to mirror what the Communist Party of China's decision makers are thinking - from commenting that it was time that the government took people's concerns into consideration while planning new industrial projects.

"The public's awareness of environmental issues and their rights is increasing at a rapid pace," said an editorial in the People's Daily, arguably the most influential among CPC-run newspapers on Monday. It added that the country should strive to "establish an open and transparent decision-making mechanism, and build a tolerant environment for public opinion."

The People's Daily said the growing frustration surrounding pollution from industrial projects provides the country with an opportunity to shift away from low-end manufacturing towards less-polluting industries.

Many of the projects that have been the object of citizen protests had been approved by the local government without sufficient consultation with local residents, it said.

Such high profile protests highlighted the need "to promote interaction between citizens and government" when assessing the environmental impact of proposed industrial projects, the paper added.

The often-strident Global Times recalled the incident at Shifang in Sichuan earlier this month: "In both cases, the locals were clear that they firmly oppose projects that might ruin the local environment. There were physical clashes in both spots. In Shifang, local police used non-lethal but heavy-handed force, while some members of the crowd destroyed public property in both cases," it said.

It suggested that the government should open up its policymaking process for public participation, building up a representative system that allows citizens to approve its projects.

The government should stop shouldering all the responsibilities and instead invite the public to help, it said, adding: "This actually can be beneficial to the government as it won't have to take all the blame if a project goes wrong. Sharing responsibilities with the public will also help boost the development of a civil society, as people will become more capable in managing their own community's affairs."