China: Among protesters, “middle class” slated for ‘loyal opposition’ role

Successful pollution protest shows China takes careful line with rising middle class

GILLIAN WONG,  Associated Press
October 29, 2012

NINGBO, China — A victory by protesters against the expansion of a chemical plant proves the new rule in China: The authoritarian government is scared of middle-class rebellion and will give in if the demonstrators’ aims are limited and not openly political.

It’s far from a revolution. China’s nascent middle class, the product of the past decade’s economic boom, is looking for better government, not a different one. They’re especially concerned about issues like health, education and property values and often resist the growth-at-all-costs model Beijing has pushed.

PHOTO: Chinese police officers monitor residents gathered outside the city government office in Ningbo city in eastern China's Zhejiang province Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. After three days of protests by thousands of citizens over pollution fears, a local Chinese government relented and agreed that the petrochemical factory would not be expanded, only to see the protests persist. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

[Chinese police officers monitor residents gathered outside the city government office in Ningbo city in eastern China’s Zhejiang province Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. After three days of protests by thousands of citizens over pollution fears, a local Chinese government relented and agreed that the petrochemical factory would not be expanded, only to see the protests persist. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)]

The past week’s chemical-plant protests reached an unruly crescendo over the weekend, when thousands of people marched through prosperous Ningbo city, clashing with police at times. The city government gave in Sunday and agreed to halt the plant’s expansion.

Even so, the protesters did not back down, staying outside city government offices hours after the concession. About 200 protesters, many of them retirees, returned Monday to make sure the government keeps its word on the oil and ethylene refinery run by a subsidiary of Sinopec, the state-owned petrochemical giant.

“In yesterday’s protest, the ordinary people let their voices be heard,” a 40-year-old businessman who would give only his surname, Bao, said on the protest line Monday. Government officials, he said, “should say they are completely canceling the project. They should state clearly that they will stop doing these projects in Ningbo and the rest of China.” Continue reading