Chinese citizens protest PRC-linked incineration plant, receive official warnings, police threats
Thousands of Wuhan residents demonstrated for several days in late June and early July 2019 against construction by a state-owned firm of a so-called waste-to-energy plant in a residential district, according to assorted news reports. The plants burn garbage to produce electricity, reducing trash sent to landfills but significantly increasing polluting emissions.
Police, many in riot gear, tried to shut down the protests outside government buildings in Wuhan, the largest city in south-central China, but they continued for at least three days, according to reports published on China’s most popular microblogging platform.
“Videos and comments circulating on Weibo show hundreds of riot police and suggest that police beat protesters,” including the elderly, according to the online magazine, The Diplomat.
Citizens condemned the police brutality in myriad online posts, which included details of protesters being detained and taken away in vans, The New York Timesnewspaper reported July 5, 2019. “China’s leaders keep a very close eye on local protests over environmental concerns, mainly to make sure that they show no sign of being coordinated between cities. They are leery of any broader movement that could challenge the Communist Party’s authority,” the newspaper reported.
By June 30, 2019, posts regarding the Wuhan protests had been viewed by over 231 million Weibo users, at which point it was removed from ‘hot searches’ on Weibo,” which is controlled by the Chinese government, the Diplomat reported.
The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) handling of the plant project seems to follow a pattern of poor governance as well as a slew of other major public safety disasters in recent years, according to The Diplomat analysis.
Waste disposal is a growing problem in China, given the size of its population and increasing development, but the PRC’s management of the issue has been abysmal, critics contend.
Similar waste-disposal plants in China have been fraught with problems, despite President Xi Jinping’s promise to make public safety a high priority. In Shenzen in 2015, more than 69 people were killed and 80 buildings destroyed during a massive mudslide at a waste dump construction site, according to the International Business Times, a digital global news publication. “The mudslide in Shenzhen, one of China’s most developed cities, just as the year  drew to a close, raised awkward questions for the leadership — particularly when local residents alleged that their complaints about the huge pile of earth and mud had been ignored by officials,” the International Business Times reported.
Meanwhile, the PRC-controlled Wuhan municipal government has allowed waste-to-energy incineration plants to be “established without much consideration of the local residents’ health and environment,” according to a 2015 report published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. (Pictured: A worker operates a crane lifting garbage for incineration at a waste-to-energy plant in Kaili, Guizhou province, China, on June 2, 2019).
The government has permitted such plants to be built illegally close to residential neighborhoods, elementary schools and water supplies, with one being built within 100 meters of an apartment building, the study found. The planned U.S. $29 million plant, to be the sixth in Wuhan, would be 800 meters from a residential area, which is still too close, community members contended in a letter, the Diplomat reported. Plans recommend such facilities be built at least 1.5 kilometers away.
The Wuhan government has also restricted public participation and failed to enforce compliance with assessment and disposal regulations, the authors of the environmental study found. None of the current five plants would pass environmental impact assessments, and the plants, enabled by the government, have severely polluted the environment, often pumping out several tons of hazardous waste a day, the authors wrote. “The discharge of large amount of hazardous waste every day by the [existing] five plants in Wuhan should be a serious crime.”
Although a post by the district government, after the recent protests erupted, claims the latest waste-to-energy project will not start because of the opposition, citizens remain skeptical that the comment was just a ploy to silence the protesters. The Xinzhou district government in eastern Wuhan subsequently issued a statement guaranteeing “the participation rights and supervision rights of the masses” but warning that “public security organizations will resolutely crack down on illegal criminal acts such as malicious incitement and provocation,” according to The New York Times.
PRC officials have not yielded to other efforts to halt construction of similar waste-to-energy plants. In 2017, Shenzen residents filed a lawsuit to stop a plant from being built, but the courts allowed the project to go forward. Residents of another city in Wuhan, called Xiaotou, protested construction of a plant there in 2016, but the first phase of the project was finished in early 2019, The Diplomat reported.