Clash over coal-fired power plant in Yingge shows that it’s time for reform
A recent clash over a coal-fired power plant in Yingge Sea town, Hainan Province, between local residents and police, resulted in residents being injured and some being detained. Similarly, in the Zhenhai district of Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, a 50 billion yuan ($8 billion) investment program prompted some local residents appeal to the higher authorities and gather in large numbers around government offices. These two public demonstrations opposing industrial projects are cause for concern.
The concerns of local residents over heavy chemical projects are understandable. Accusing residents of being irrational is a meaningless gesture.
In fact, public complaints may force heavy chemical projects to invest more in environmental protection. They can also force the country to continuously improve the environmental standards of these kinds of enterprises. The reality is that the ability of companies responsible for heavy chemical projects to protect the environment is progressing. This shows pressure from the public in action.
However, heavy chemical projects must not stop. These projects are crucial for the development of our national economy.
We cannot resolve this problem just by stopping or postponing their establishment or moving them around. This would not help people allay their fears.
The old government-dominated method of approving and constructing heavy chemical projects is unsustainable. It needs thorough reform. The conflict will decrease only when projects receive approval from the public.
Opposing voices should legally be allowed to improve the democratic policy-making process.
In the long run, heavy chemical industries will be concentrated in certain areas of the country. Like in some developed countries, specialized heavy chemical industry zones can provide alluring job opportunities and welfare compensation, attracting many young people.
The high compensation will be balanced out by the value added to the raw material, and the price will eventually be paid by all of society.
The resistance to heavy chemical projects reflects the public's reluctance to sacrifice their own interests for public gain, but it is also raising society's legitimate expectation of high pay for the high-risk projects. A final balance will be reached between fear and high returns.
If the process takes too long, society will also have to suffer the consequences, given the significance of this industry to China's development at this stage.
The government should guide this process which involves competing interests. But heavy chemical projects have been used by some opinion leaders to further their political appeal. The public is not fully informed on this issue and sometimes takes an unrealistic stance.
Heavy chemical projects are now being stonewalled everywhere. This problem must be solved.
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