A PX chemical plant near the downtown area of Dalian was halted operations and a quick decision was taken to relocate it Sunday. In recent years, some local government would hesitate in the face of public incidents. In this regard, Dalian is an exception.
Some Dalian citizens opposed the PX project. Such expressions of public opinion have become frequent in today's China. This indicates social progress, as it shows the public has more opportunities to be heard. In Dalian, their opinion was treated with respect.
But it is worth mentioning that while there are more channels for individuals and groups to express their opinions, it is essential that a distinction be made for rational opinion. There should also be channels for other voices to prevent a single opinion from being regarded as the mainstream.
Some Dalian citizens went to the streets to express their views, however, a move that should not be advocated in China. While the Dalian local government decided to stop and relocate the project, Chinese society has objected to their taking their issues to the street. Reports on this incident have not gained much ground in China's mainstream media, showing the real attitude of Chinese society.
The worries of Dalian citizens are quite natural. Such concerns will emerge again regarding other chemical projects in China.
But the fact is, to this date, Dalian has not lost anything as a result of this project. The project has brought job opportunities to the city and boosted its economy.
In addition to chemical projects, there are always other potential dangers. China is in a transition period, from previously ignoring safety to having a sensitive attitude toward it. There is a fine line to walk between risk management and economic development. China still lacks experience in this regard.
The incident showed that the demands of the public are taken seriously by the Chinese government. The pace of information disclosure and releasing of the official statement may not have been quick enough, but the adjustments that the government made were swift. Both the public and the government have begun adapting both their language and actions to a more democratic time.
It should not be simply seen as a victory of a "protest." In fact, in China, reasonable public appeals will eventually be accepted by the government. New technological tools, such as Weibo, have strengthened communication between the public and the government. Protest, as a means of expressing opinions, will not likely become the main way Chinese people will make their voices heard.
China's reform is being advanced by various minor incidents, and this reform has, in turn, created more room for understanding and tolerance.
What the Dalian incident has shown is China's adaptability and problem-solving capability, not the risk that it may flounder over an emergency.