Shifang protest

From the September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Shifang protest

Chinese officials in Sichuan province bowed quickly to mass protests and withdrew plans on July 3 for construction of a $1.6 billion molybdenum copper processing plant in Shifang town. Thousands of demonstrators faced tear gas and police batons beginning on July 1, surrounding government buildings and installations in Shifang to stop the project and the predictably high level of heavy metal carcinogens it would spew into the air.

Despite facing injury and arrest at the hands of elite anti-riot police, the protesters continued until the government and Communist Party did a rapid about-face. They moved in two days from selling the processing plant as a job creator within the interior province of Sichuan to publicly scrapping it.

The crowds demonstrating had continued to swell, but the notable participation of high school students had obsessed the Party and the official media. Calls went out at the beginning to get high school students to not join in protest, and even afterward punishment was promised for those who they might blame for recruiting students. One can almost sense the fear of a challenge to the regime from the youth.

Those who see in the successful protest in Shifang a sign of a kinder, gentler response to the, on average, 400 mass incidents a day, need to recall that last year’s Wukan village revolt and expulsion of village Party officials did not end future land grab protests from being settled with police power. Even as local and provincial Party officials maneuver for power in advance of the upcoming 18th Party Congress, the regime’s first allegiance is to state or private capitalists who will insist they need the molybdenum and copper.

—Bob McGuire

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