China environment protests force halt to studies for industrial park project

BEIJING (Reuters) - Authorities in an eastern Chinese city have vowed to halt studies for a petrochemical industrial park project planned jointly with a Singapore company, following a wave of protests over possible health and environment risks.

Tens of thousands of “mass incidents” - the usual euphemism for protests - happen in China each year, spurred by grievances over issues such as corruption, pollution and illegal land grabs, unnerving the stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party.

The government of Longkou, in Shandong province, said it had dropped plans for an environmental feasibility study for the project, after protests that reflected the feelings of people living nearby.

“Based on the opinions reflected by the populace, the plans for the environmental study have already been ceased,” the city government said in a statement on Wednesday.

Hundreds of protest marchers in Longkou held up cloth banners reading, “This is still our home” and “Protect the environment” in pictures posted on Chinese social media this week, although Reuters could not verify the photographs.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of paraxylene and polyester, which are vital ingredients for the country’s textile and plastics industry.

But plants producing such petrochemicals have frequently faced demonstrations prompted by fears they could harm the environment and health of nearby residents.

The Longkou industrial park project is a joint venture between Singapore’s Jurong International Holdings Pte Ltd. and the Longkou-based Nanshan Group Co. Ltd., media reports say.

Reuters could not immediately reach the firms for comment.

Beijing wants to experiment with “mixed ownership”, or partial privatization, in its massive state-controlled energy sector to boost efficiency and drive greener growth.

Last June, thousands of people protested in Jinshan, about 60 km (37 miles) from China’s commercial hub of Shanghai, against plans to build a chemical plant in the district.

A private investor-led Chinese group plans to build a $15- billion petrochemical complex on an island near Shanghai, in what would be the country’s first, and largest, energy installation built by a non-state investor, industry sources told Reuters last week.

Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez