HONG KONG — . . . . Large and sometimes violent demonstrations against the planned construction of one of the largest copper smelting complexes on earth prompted local officials in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province to..... announced in a statement that the construction of the $1.6 billion complex had not only been suspended but also permanently canceled. . . . The police acted after a crowd estimated by local residents in the tens of thousands defied the police and assembled Tuesday evening to demand the release of dozens of students jailed in the protests on Sunday and Monday.
. . . . the protests were only the latest in a series of large, sometimes violent demonstrations that appear to be having some success in pushing China to impose more stringent safeguards on new manufacturing and mining projects.
. . . financial penalties are on the rise for Chinese companies and their owners who plan projects perceived as hazardous . . .
- Last month, about 1,000 people protested to block a trash incinerator in Songjiang, near Shanghai, with no decision yet announced there on whether it will proceed.
- Last December, local officials announced that they would stop a coal-fired power plant in Haimen, near Hong Kong, after an estimated 30,000 people marched to block the construction.
- Last September, a solar energy company in Jiaxing, near Shanghai, was closed after demonstrations there that objected to chemicals used in the manufacturing process.
- And last August, local officials in Dalian, in northeastern China, said that a petrochemical plant would be closed and relocated after at least 12,000 people joined protests.
. . . . But the success of the Shifang protests suggests that opponents may find it easier to prevent environmentally threatening projects from getting started than shutting down existing ones.. . .
. . . . the protests appear to have resonated across the country. “Shifang” was the most-searched term on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, on Tuesday and again on Wednesday morning, before abruptly disappearing entirely from the list of frequently searched terms in a possible sign of censorship. Several posts praising the Shifang protests on Tuesday evening had been deleted by Wednesday morning, another sign of censorship. But more posts had replaced them. . . .
. . . .But the government has lately been closing down even legal rare earth refineries all over China for months at a time to require them to install new emissions control equipment, after years of tolerating heavy emissions of toxic and radioactive waste that have turned areas into moonscapes.
Improving the environmental record of the rare earth industry may help China in a pending World Trade Organization case filed against it by the United States, the European Union and Japan.
Multinational corporations are generally already building cleaner operations in China, partly for fear of offending Chinese ultranationalists if there is a pollution scare and partly from public pressure in their home markets.
When Honda built a new auto assembly plant in Guangzhou several years ago, for example, the company included a wastewater management system that even went beyond the cleanup standards at many auto assembly plants in the United States. Honda executives reasoned at the time that China would someday toughen standards, and that it would be cheaper to build to strict standards from the start instead of retrofitting later.