December 22,2007

Environment to People

By Ma Wenluo
The local government of Xiamen in Fujian Province, a beautiful coastal city in southern mainland China and just across the Taiwan Strait,  has in response to residents?opposition, suspended the massive Xiamen Haicang Praxylene project.

The project was proposed and financed by Taiwan Xianglu Chemical Fibers, a company that produces synthetic fibers such as luisland (sea-island fiber), lucool (cool & dry fiber), luwarm (hollow fiber), ANFLtex (a flame-retardant), full-Dull and high-Count fibers. If completed, Xiamen Haicang Paraxylene will become the fourth largest chemical company in the Mainland, capable of producing 80 billion RMB in output per year.

Paraxylene (PX) is in short supply in the Asia-Pacific region and therefore maintains a high selling price. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) approved the project to increase China’s supply of this product by opening a plant in the Mainland.  Xiamen Haicang Paraxylene thus became a critical government task.  The first obstacle on this project, which was widely reported in local websites, was that since the factory would be located in a densely populated area, it could pose a safety problem.  In March, during the National People’s Congress, Zhao Yufen, a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Science and also a professor of chemistry at Xiamen University, together with some other 105 members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), signed a proposal for changing the location of the PX project. Residents were worried that in case of an emergency (like gas leak, tsunami or earthquake), Xiamen an island would not be able to move its residents into safety. The next obstacle happened in the middle of May, when a text message stating the effects of PX forwarded among residents and caused them to demonstrate against the project.

During a news conference, Xiamen’s local government announced that it would suspend the construction of the PX facility and delegated the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES) to assess the environmental effects of this project. At the beginning of December, the local government’s official website conducted a survey in which 90% of participants were against the PX project. In a later held forum, more than 80% of representatives also voice their opposition.

The government’s response to this matter has been beyond people’s expectations. An senior official of the municipal government organized a testimony attended by stakeholders, most of whom strongly expressed their opposition of the project. It appears that the public opinion played a key role in pushing the provincial government of Fujian into the decision to move the project away and the government would compensate investor’s losses.

This incident has set a new precedent for future projects especially concerning environmental protection, location, and compensation on multinationals?investment in China.

The Bohai Bay, a northern region the government plans to develop, already houses two 10 million tons of oil refining projects. The Bohai Bay seabed has been polluted heavily. Certain authorities on the environment are worried that although such an intensive chemical sector based in the district will bring about high economic expansion, it will be at the expense of the environment. An official from the environmental protection department at State Oceanic Administration (SOA), stated that "Bohai Bay now can not afford so many heavy chemical projects." According to some environmental protectionists, Bohai Bay has become China’s dead sea. Furthermore, a chemical project, which was rejected by Taiwan residents, 22 years ago, was relocated to Dongying of Shandong Province, also along the coast. This was the biggest investment made by Dupont overseas (640 million USD), and has left many just as worried about its effects on the environment.

There are also three nuclear power plants in the works along the Jiaodong Peninsula.  On the 9th of December, deputy-president of State Environmental Protection Administration(SEPA), Wu Xiaoqing said that the Shandong Rushan nuclear power plant is too early to go into the environmental evaluation process. In recent years, SEPA has become the most vocal department as it insists on that investment projects should not be approved without environmental assessment, and that unqualified projects should be rejected.

China’s biggest project, Three Gorge Dam, has been under debate for 30 years. Finally the highest organ of state authority, the National People’s Congress, voted to decide whether to approve or not. It was finally approved.

These experiences have pressed the Chinese government to impose a new policy of "Scientific Outlook on Development," which aims to put people first as well as a comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development. As for the Xiamen PX project, it looks like this policy is doing its job and the planned facility will more than likely have to find a new home.

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