Tiananmen anniversary takes the heat out of Xiamen plant protests

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2007, 12:00am

Xiamen was quiet for the second day in a row yesterday after environmental demonstrations rocked the coastal city last week, with marchers unwilling to do anything on the highly sensitive 18th anniversary of the suppression of the 1989 democracy movement.

'Today is June 4, so nobody is going to go out,' said a man who took part in Friday and Saturday's protests against a large chemical plant the government wants to build close to new flats and schools in the suburb of Haicang.

Last week, the government announced a temporary halt to the unpopular project. Residents described the plant, designed to manufacture 800,000 tonnes of hazardous p-Xylene a year, as an environmental and health disaster in the making.

In the blue-and-white hangar-like temporary offices of Tenglong Aromatic (Xiamen) in Haicang, about 60 employees sat in front of computer terminals or worked on building plans and sheets covered in financial and chemical information.

'We're working as usual, there's been no change' said one employee, who gave his name as Kevin.

But no trucks were to be seen on the giant, freshly turned, red-earth site outside. A request to interview general manager Lin Yingzong on how the company planned to go ahead was turned down.

Spokesman Zhang Zuan said his boss was in emergency meetings with officials. 'You know, on the mainland our relationship with the government is very close,' he said. 'They're now discussing what's the best thing to do.'

Mr Zhang declined to name the investors in the 10.8 billion yuan plant. He denied reports from Xiamen sources that shareholders included Taiwanese businessman Chen Yu-hao, who is wanted in Taiwan in connection with embezzlement charges.

While protests are increasingly common across the mainland, they are mostly confined to poor areas and rarely take place in prosperous, well-educated cities like Xiamen, where thousands demonstrated last week, brought together by up to 1 million text messages.

Meanwhile, the government intensified efforts to win hearts and minds with a slew of reports in the state-run press that mixed threats with persuasion.

The demonstrations were illegal and would be considered 'subversive', the Communist Party mouthpiece Xiamen Daily said yesterday, while also highlighting what it said were moves to listen to citizens' demands. So far, officials had received 1,557 opinions that included carrying out a new environmental impact assessment; forging ahead with plans as they were; and abandoning the project, it said.

A comic strip showed readers how such projects were approved, and other articles called on residents to trust the government.