Friday, December 09, 2005

Stupid autocratic environmental policy in China leads to protest, at least 20 dead

One of the stories that has been flying just beneath the media radar these days is the wave of protest against the Chinese government from rural areas. I was aware of it, but never chose to investigate, because, well you know. Now it has bubbled to the front page of the New York Times.

Villagers in the town of Dongzhou, near Hong Kong in the industrial southeast of China, were protesting the construction of a coal-fired power plant wind farm.(see update) China gets most of its power from coal, which has created a thick, Dickensian haze over the southeast region. Protesters feared more air polution, and were also mad that the plan required filling in a part of the bay where many made their living as fishermen. The villagers used fireworks as a part of their protest. "The kind that fly up into the sky," a witness explained. Nevertheless when the fireworks went off, the police appear to have rioted, fireing automatic weapons into the crowd. At least 20 are dead, and fifty are missing.

The times reports that there have been 74,000 riots in rural areast this year, generallay around environmental issues.
Like the Dongzhou incident itself, most of the thousands of riots and public disturbances recorded in China this year have involved environmental, property rights and land use issues. Among other problems, in trying to come to grips with the growing rural unrest, the Chinese government is wrestling with a yawning gap in incomes between farmers and urban dwellers, and rampant corruption in local government, where unaccountable officials deal away communal property rights, often for their own profit.

Finally, mobile telephone technology has made it easier for people in rural China to organize, communicating news to one another by short messages, and increasingly allowing them to stay in touch with members of non-governmental organizations in big cities who are eager to advise them or provide legal help.

Other fun Chinese environmental news include 100 tons of benzene spilled into the Songhua river and a mine explosion that left 134 dead.

Update: It wasn't a coal plant, it was a wind farm, which makes the whole thing more interesting. Villagers are protesting all development projects where their land is siezed and livelihood disrupted (understandably). I will have to blog more about the relationship between democracy and environmentalism soon.

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