A lack of public transparency around major projects has caused mistrust, suspicion and public opposition, a senior official from China’s environment ministry has admitted.
Speaking at the launch of the 2013 Report on the State of the Environment in China last Wednesday, vice environment minister Li Ganjie said environmental concerns had fuelled an increasing number of "mass incidents" – the official term for protests – partly because “the planning process in some areas and some departments may not be as scientific and rational as it should be”. He added that some projects “don’t share enough information with the public”.
“If the public doesn’t participate in the process, and is unable to get explanations and timely answers to their questions, this generates mistrust and suspicion,” Li said.
In May this year thousands of angry residents in a suburb of Hangzhou, the capital city of southeastern Zhejiang province, blocked local traffic to protest against a waste incineration plant. Maoming City, in Guangdong province, south China, saw similar clashes over a controversial PX project in March.
According to the annual State of the Environment report, China has recorded 712 cases of "abrupt environmental incidents" (including protests triggered by environmental concerns) in 2013, a 31% surge from the previous year’s figure.
The Global Times, an influential state-owned newspaper, called for tougher handling of Hangzhou’s protest in its editorial in May. “Not-in-my-backyard demands against ‘suspected polluting projects’ have become a serious problem for China. Allowing this to develop will lead to social disorder,” it said.
However, Li Ganjie said the environment ministry “had paid a great deal of attention to the problem, as it is a significant problem” and will “make public participation a key aspect of the approval process for environmental evaluations.”