Was the response by Chinese government to Ningbo protest justified?

Since August 2012, Chinese citizens in the city of Ningbo started protesting over the plans by the Chinese government to expand a chemical plant near the city (Spegele, 2012). Since the beginning of the protests, the police and local government officials tried to quell the riots.

However, the riots continued, and there were still protests on the sixth day (Jacobs, 2012). The protests turned violent and the Chinese police tried to quell the riots aggressively. However, the protests continued with the protesters accusing the government of being insensitive. On the other hand, the government accuses protester of engaging in unconventional protests (Spegele, 2012). Are the protests justified, or are they an unlawful breach of civil order as the Chinese government claims?

Over the last one decade, china has become the biggest manufacturer in the world (Jacobs, 2012). Multinational companies, most of them from Europe, have relocated their operations to China due to availability of cheap labor and raw materials in the country. The Chinese government has been encouraging this kind of investment by reluctance to enforce laws to protect the environment (Jacobs, 2012).

Many factories have been set up in china without observation of international regulations regarding the environment and waste disposal, and the Chinese people seem to have a right to protest against such actions. If such mal-practices are allowed in such a country with numerous industrial establishments, an environmental disaster may occur. Such a disaster is likely to affect the whole world including China (Gayathri, 2012).

Secondly, since establishment of a communist government in china, authorities have always been hostile to any kind of concerns over governance of the country. It has become increasingly difficult to coerce the government to observe ethical practices through any formal means. This leaves protests as the only way the Chinese people can communicate with their government (Executive Commission of China, 2012).

The Chinese government has consistently silenced any protest in the quest to protect its socialist structure. During the Ningbo protests, police used excessive force against protesters.

The protests turned more violent when the protesters retaliated with stone throwing and hurling other projectiles towards the riot police officers (Jacobs, 2012). Censuring of media has also been a common practice in China for various political reasons. This is one of the major reasons why the public in china is eventually resulting to violent protests.

One of the reasons for the ferocity of the protests in Ningbo is that the factory to be expanded was expected to produce a petrochemical that is usually a pollutant its final products are not handled with care (Gayathri, 2012. Paraxylene is widely used in manufacture of plastic containers as an alternative to other plastics and glass.

The containers used are easy to recycle, but paraxylene itself is lethal if it somehow pollutes the environment. The area in which the factory is to be built is already polluted with many chemicals from the industrial section of the city (Spegele, 2012).

The government embarked on the factory expansion project without considering the importance of opinion of the people. This has been the trend for Chinese government for most of industrial projects within the city (Gayathri, 2012). Perhaps, this is a tactic used by the government to escape criticism.

This shows lack of openness in the government’s activities. Ideally, a government should be open in all its activities in order to serve the people properly (Executive Commission of China, 2012). The manner in which police handled protesters portrays an intolerant government, which uses excess force to silence the public into accepting its will.

Over years, the Chinese government has been engaged in an economic competition with western powers. The difference in ideologies is the cause of the antagonism between china and western countries. The competition requires quick industrial growth to keep up with the financial demands in the international market.

China has been encouraging industrial growth for political reasons rather than for civil prosperity (Spegele, 2012). This makes the citizens the victims of the struggle for ideological supremacy between China and the western countries. Thus, the protesters in Ningbo have a right to protest for consideration of the environment by the Chinese government.

In past protest against industrialization by the Chinese government, the plans to industrialize some parts of the country continued even after people complained the developers were failing to observe their responsibilities towards the environment. In many of the projects, the government stopped progress when considerable amount of public money had already been spent. This was done due to public pressure rather than on government’s own volition.

Public funds were always being wasted on such incomplete projects all over China (Gayathri, 2012). To avert the possibility of the government wasting more money on incomplete projects the protesters were justified to hold protest. Some of the protesters expressed their concern over the government’s unwillingness to respond to public queries in all campaigns against irresponsible industrialization. In many occasions, the public resorts to confrontation with the authorities.

The Chinese government has also been accused of starting industrialization projects without adequate investigations to establish the impact of the industrial activities on the environment. An investigation into the nature of the project and its effects on the local environment is usually assessed after public unrest (Tam, 2012). The protesters in Ningbo had a reason to stage a protest since the government started the project without giving a full public report of the safety of the environment and the people of Ningbo.

Another reason for the protests is the unconventional control of the mass media by the Chinese government. All news and content of material broadcast over Chinese mass media is carefully filtered to favor the opinion of the communist party (Tam, 2012). This suppression of the media has sealed an important channel through which public issues can be resolved.

Consequently, the Chinese public often results to protests as the only way to express its discontent with the manner in which projects of significant public interest are being handled.

On the other hand, some people argue that the Chinese government had a reason for the apparently violent repulsion of the protesters. In addition, some people are of the opinion that the Chinese government had the right to build the factory in Ningbo for various scientific and factual reasons.

Such claims seek to legitimize the response of Chinese government and its bid to expand the factory in Ningbo (Tam, 2012). Furthermore, these arguments legitimize many other actions by the Chinese government regarding its industrialization activities in other parts of the country.

China is the largest country in terms of population. For this reason, massive industrialization is necessary to support the large population. Industrialization provides jobs for China’s huge population, which already suffers a significant unemployment rate. If the government has to observe its responsibility towards the people, then it has to set up industries to create employment and generate income (Tam, 2012).

While the protesters may have a right to protect their environment, it is also rational that some industrialization projects must be allowed for development and political stability to prevail. The protest in Ningbo may have been due to a culture of protests rather than genuine concern for the environment.

One government official claimed that protesters were ignorant of the efforts by the Chinese government to create formal forums trough which public concerns can be attended to (Zuo, 2012). The Chinese government claims that it has changed its approach in dealing with matters of public concerns over time. However, the government claims that the protesters are unwilling to acknowledge this effort. It is for this reason that the Chinese government is hostile towards the protesters (Zuo, 2012).

There are also concerns that the protesters in Ningbo are also ill- informed on their subject of protest. Most of the protesters were not informed about the formal preparation that the Chinese government may have done prior to authorization of the expansion project. Most of the protests were mobilized through social media. This was evident by the number of protesters who displayed pages of social networking sites on their mobile devices. Such protests are obviously susceptible to manipulation particularly during such a time.

The Chinese government is going to undergo a political overhaul that rarely happens and is only done once a decade (Zuo, 2012). It is possible that some politicians intending to cause civil unrest are using the industrial project as an excuse. Thus, the police and the local authorities have a right to try to stop the protests.

Most of the protests in Ningbo were considered illegal by the authorities. The local authorities did not legally sanction the protests before they began. Such protests could pose danger to civil order and stability. Protesters often turned violent and hurled projectiles at police officers (LaFraniere, 2012).

It is only reasonable that the police should stop any violent protest in any society. The local authorities accuse protesters of hooliganism and unacceptable conduct during the protest. One official expressed concern over the tendency of crowds of protesters to barricade roads by erecting barriers and sitting in the middle of the roads (LaFraniere, 2012).

Chinese government officials also accused protesters of unwillingness to engage in dialogue. The officials cite the continued protests even as the government promised to investigate the Ningbo project and the danger that is posed to the local environment (LaFraniere, 2012). In addition, the government says that it had informed the public of the planned projects and even evacuated those people who were living in unacceptable proximity of the factory in Ningbo.

Consultation with investors are said to have taken place to discuss potential environmental hazards that the plant might cause (LaFraniere, 2012). The police defended their actions by saying that all the methods used to quell the riots were used with consideration of public safety. According to authorities, no action was taken without reasonable purpose.

Finally, the authorities in china claim that the protesters were overreacting to the manufacture of paraxylene. According to the local authorities, this chemical is one of the few organic materials that enable industries produce recyclable plastic containers (“Chinese factory plan”, 2012).

The danger posed to the public is relatively mild with exposure and insignificant when production process is precisely controlled. In fact, the authorities insist that the use of the chemical is necessary to reduce impact of plastic products on the environment.

The issue of Ningbo protest presents a dilemma due to the nature of arguments by the protesters and the authorities (“Chinese factory plan”, 2012). The protesters claim that their government has consistently failed to heed public concerns regarding industrialization projects that pose danger to the immediate environment. Such unwillingness to consider the opinion of the public necessitated mass action.

Considering the scale of industrialization that is taking place in China, it is obvious that location of many chemical industries near a highly populated urban settlement poses health risks to residents (LaFraniere, 2012). It is possible that the protesters had a reason to resist the attempt to expand the Ningbo factory. The city of Ningbo is already a major industrial center with many chemical plants.

These plants are said to cause pollution and extensive environmental damage to the city of Ningbo (“Chinese factory plan”, 2012). Ti is reasonable that the protesters tried to stop the expansion of the chemical factory. On the other hand, the authorities have a duty to maintain civil order.

Thus, it was necessary to respond to violent protesters in the appropriate way. Such response is inevitably bound to lead to arrests and forceful suppression of the protests. It is also important that protests are based on genuine concerns rather than biased claims in the social media. Protests based solely on reports in the social media are prone to manipulation by political entities especially during such a period with significant political activity.

However based on the nature of the government in china and the history of political and social suppression that the country is known for, it is reasonable to conclude that the protests in china were addressing genuine concerns. Thus, the response to protests by police was not justified under the prevailing circumstances.


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Zuo, P. (2012, October 27). Protests Against Expansion of China Chemical Plant Turn Violent – NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/world/asia/protests-against-expansion-of- china-chemical-plant-turn-violent.html?ref=asia