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Vicious spiral must be broken for PX plants

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-1 0:13:01

A crowd of residents in Maoming, Guangdong Province, gathered on Sunday to protest a planned paraxylene (PX) plant. Local police quickly controlled the situation after a minority escalated the demonstration into violence. There was no death of people involved. But it remains to be seen whether the project will share the fate of other PX plants in cities like Ningbo and Kunming.

Aromatic hydrocarbon, which is produced by PX plants, is a basic material for the heavy chemical industry, but China has to depend on huge imports due to a domestic shortage of supply. Increasing the number of large-scale PX projects has vital bearing on China's economy and people's livelihoods. For a populous country, this high reliance on imports in the heavy chemical industry could pose long-term strategic risks. The majority of the Chinese public understands this.

Nonetheless, residents of Xiamen succeeded in removing a PX plant in 2009 through demonstrations and protests, setting a bad precedent by frantically refusing chemical plants.

As a spectrum of cities such as Dalian, Shifang, Nantong, Ningbo and Kunming followed suit in snuffing out heavy chemical projects, the whole country seems to be trapped in a negative cycle of protests and suspension of PX plants.

A lack of communication between local governments and the public plus poor official credibility constitute the roots of local repugnance against PX projects, further fueled by growing public upset over environmental pollution.

PX factories in Japan and South Korea are delighted to benefit from the soaring prices of hydrocarbon exports to China. The endorsement of local governments on the safety of PX programs is not trusted by the public. Instead, they only believe in an absolute safety brought about by derailing the plans. This must be stopped.

In the past dramatic encounters over PX programs, some local officials surrendered to pressure of maintaining stability in order to secure their position. The public clung to their selfish individual interests while some public figures took the chance to angle for prestige. But doing so has only eroded the public and national interest.

Governments should strive for a breakthrough in changing the embarrassing situation of PX projects in China. The approval and initiation of a PX plant must be transparent as well as in strict accordance with regulations and laws. Local governments shouldn't rescind chemical programs into disarray once there is opposition nor sabotage the rule of law. They instead need to shoulder the national interest, leading the public to change their irrational attitude.

We don't believe all planned PX projects in China in recent years are unreasonable, ridden with environmental dangers. Therefore, a strong local government is needed so that it can withstand pressure, be capable and patient in negotiating with the public. Can Maoming act this way? We hope so.
Posted in: Editorial