Following violent demonstrations in Maoming, Guangdong province, against a controversial petrochemical plant, the city’s officials now say the plan will not proceed if most people clearly opposed it.
The public’s concern about the project was thoroughly understood, and their opinion would “surely be heard” via different channels before a decision was made, the city government said on Monday night.
Watch: Hundreds protest against chemical plant in China's Maoming city
Residents should express their opinions “rationally and collectively to maintain social stability”.
The protesters were demonstrating against the proposed addition of a 3.5 billion yuan (HK$4.4 billion) paraxylene (PX) plant to the city’s existing petrochemical operations jointly run by the local government and state-owned oil giant Sinopec.
The demonstration started peacefully in the morning. Two witnesses said the number of participants rose from several hundred to more than a thousand once the march began.
Photos posted online showed people holding banners and at least one police van on fire.
Many of the photos have since been deleted. The government said some demonstrators provoked police by throwing rocks and water bottles at public facilities at about 10.30pm.
Online photos showed several apparently unconscious bloodied people lying in the streets. Protesters complained of unwarranted violence by officers.
One witness said he saw dozens of police detain at least two people in the morning. Several others were detained in the afternoon, he added.
No one was killed in the violence, the government statement said, without mentioning any injuries or arrests.
The local government initially responded by saying the incident was carried out by “a group of outlaws” and was “a serious offence, which seriously affected social order”.
It urged residents “not to give criminals the opportunity to create chaos and destroy the precious environment of stable and harmonious development”.
The protest attracted nationwide attention, quickly becoming one of the most discussed topics on social media on Sunday until censors banned searches for “Maoming” and deleted scores of photos shared by participants.
A local spokesman for Sinopec, Asia’s biggest refiner, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday morning.
However, Zhang Kehua, vice-chairman of Sinopec Engineering, told China Daily more should be done to inform the public of the environmental effects of PX as it was a necessary component of industry.
Paraxylene is a chemical essential to the process of manufacturing plastic bottles and polyester clothing.
“The local government needs to improve transparency in the development of such chemical plants,” Zhang said. “Otherwise, the country will see a widening shortage of its PX supply if more projects are shut down.”
Large protests against petrochemical plants have occurred in several mainland cities in recent years after two successful popular campaigns saw PX plants shelved in Xiamen, Fujian province, in 2007 and in Dalian, Liaoning province, four years later.