Opinion

George Chen

China’s toxic leaks and social unrest

George Chen
Aug 15, 2011 03:53 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

What does PX mean? That’s the keyword for China from the past 24 hours.

State media reported that residents of Dalian were recently forced to flee when a storm battering the northeast Chinese coast, whipping up waves that burst through a dyke protecting a local chemical plant. The plant produces paraxylene (PX), a toxic petrochemical used in polyester.

On Sunday, some angry residents finally decided that instead of being forced to flee, the chemical plant should be relocated.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate and Dalian, known as one of the most beautiful coastal cities in China, made headlines all over the world.

Dalian is not alone.

Blame bad luck or natural disasters, perhaps. Four days ago, an accident at a factory in Shandong province resulted in a deadly chemical gas leak and 125 people, mostly workers and nearby residents, were sent to the hospital, local media reported. About three months ago, poisonous chemical waste was dumped illegally, polluting water sources in Yunnan province. The case was only recently revealed to the public. You can imagine how angry local people must feel.

I had a chat with a young and well-educated fund manager, a typical middle-class Chinese, about those recent accidents and his views surprised me. The fund manager is usually very calm and polite before colleagues and clients. He told me he would take to the streets and even fight to the death to get the PX plant relocated if he were a resident in the area.

Not just an accident

George Chen
Jul 25, 2011 04:11 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

We’ve talked about whether China’s economy will have a soft or hard landing. In fact, what China needs is a pause. Lots of things in China may be moving way too fast. Including our trains.

On Saturday, at least 35 people died when a high-speed train smashed into a stalled train in eastern Zhejiang province, raising new questions about the safety of the fast-growing rail network. For a Reuters story, click here.

In my view, the train crash does not only raise doubts about China’s big ambitions and effort to build its high-speed train network. It also adds to people’s frustrations over the way the country is administered. Some political commentators have said the “accident” was not really an accident but an incident, which in the end may have corruption, irresponsibility and bureaucracy to blame for.

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