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This image shows prevailing wind patterns during Kunming’s rainy season which runs roughly from May to October. Strong southwesterly winds bring monsoons from the Bay of Bengal over the Burmese landmass into Yunnan province.
The red rectangle in the southwest corner is the site of the PetroChina oil refinery, the focus of a series of recent environmental protests by concerned Kunming residents. GoogleMaps has detailed imagery of construction site’s layout. The purple area to the north is Kunming’s city center, determined by the area inside of Kunming’s 2nd ring road and home to a population of approximately 2.5mn.
Winds passing over the 10 million ton PetroChina oil refinery will send toxic pollutants directly over Anning city and Kunming’s most populated urban districts. Anning is Kunming’s largest satellite city with an urban population of 100,000. Kunmingers often drive to Anning to soak in its famous hot springs (also predictably in the pollution path), but in the last 10 years, most of Kunming’s heavy industry moved to Anning in an attempt to reduce pollution in the Dianchi Lake watershed.
After passing over Anning, winds become more concentrated and pick up speed to shoot through three passes in the Xishan (Western Hills) mountain range. The solid line represents the most voluminous wind channel. It doesn’t take an expert to see that the oil refinery site was chosen at the most optimal point for dumping pollution onto Kunming. Perhaps this is why city officials are reluctant to release data from the project’s legally mandated environmental impact assessment.
To make matters worse, a strong southerly lake effect wind, constrained by Kunming’s eastern hills, pushes all westerly winds northward into the city center as they break over Xishan mountain range. This guarantees that nearly all winds that pass over the oil refinery site through Kunming’s downtown and finally into the city’s north district, home of an additional 1.5mn residents. Kunming’s north district, currently undergoing a major urban facelift, is planned as one of the city’s new core urban centers with a projected population of 3 to 4 million residents by 2020.
Kunming’s ongoing protest against the construction of a 10mn ton petroleum refinery 40km from the city center continues to gather attention in China’s domestic media and in the international media. Yet despite continuous coverage of the protest in China’s Global Times, South China Morning Post, the Telegraph, the Guardian, and most recently the Atlantic (among many other media outlets), questions concerning the gravity of the protests continue to pop up in online chat forums: Does a protest of 1000+ Chinese citizens in a city of 7 million have impact? Given the numbers, does the average Kunming citizen know about this issue? Can protests of this scale force changes to policy agendas?
ExSE’s answer to all three of those questions is an unequivocal YES. Kunming mayor Li Wenrong would have not made an impromptu engagement with protesters last Thursday if he didn’t see the movement as a legitimate challenge to the status quo. He followed through on his promise to open a Sina Weibo account by noon on 5/18 and since then he’s gathered more than 75000 followers. Further, an online poll created after the initial 5/4 protest exceeded its limit of 100,000 responses within three days. The poll asked a simple yes or no question: Should there be a PX plant in Anning? An overwhelming majority of 80% ticked “no.” It’s no surprise that the poll’s weblink was eradicated last week. Admittedly, there is no way of knowing whether Li Wenrong’s 75k followers are mostly from Kunming, and online polls are never without bias; but the large numbers undeniably say something and suggest that the 2000+ protesters are representative of a much larger group of concerned citizens. Continue reading
Kunming’s anti-PX protest movement broke through to new heights on Thursday as more than 2500 protesters took to the city’s downtown streets. The unexpected success of this impressive NIMBY movement has empowered protesters to shift targets – what began two weeks ago as a movement opposing the construction of a polluting chemical plant attached to a PetroChina oil refinery 40km from the city center has evolved into a full blown protest against the entire 10mn ton oil refinery project. Throughout the morning the protesters worked a powerful and persistent ground game breaking through rank after rank of public security forces to gain total control of Kunming’s downtown streets by noon. Protesters marched in peaceful and non-violent demonstration for more than five hours under the intense Kunming sun and prompted an engaging appearance of Kunming mayor Li Wenrong who sympathized with protesters and promised immediate change – another breakthrough victory for this growing social movement. Continue reading
On Saturday, 5/11 anyone with cellular service registered to the Kunming municipality received two brief text messages concerning the city’s recent anti-PX protests. Sent from the Kunming’s official propaganda offices, the messages when read separately state the key decision makers deciding the fate of the polluting PX plant are willing to increase transparency and engage with the public on this issue. However, when read together, the messages send mixed signals and suggest decision makers are creating a smoke-screen to stem a planned protest scheduled for later this week and buy time for the safe passage of the PX plant.
The first text message reads:
“Kunming Mayor Li Wenrong expresses that after the ‘By-products projects attached to the PetroChina Oil refinery feasibility study’ is finished at the end of July, he will use democratic decision making processes and stringently act on this issue in accordance to the needs of majority of the masses.”
This message suggests the mayor could follow China’s environmental law by conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the PX plant (the by-product project he mentions) and releasing the findings to the public. It also suggests he could hold a public hearing before approval for the PX project is granted – another legal requirement. Both of these measures were directly demanded at last week’s protests attended by more than 2000 participants in downtown Kunming, so perhaps the city government is willing to play ball AND more importantly, follow the law.
The second text message reads:
“The CEO of Yunnan PetroChina expresses that the Kunming Anning Oil Refinery project is a fuel processing plant that producing State 5 Grade gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. This project will not include PX processing equipment and will not produce PX.”
Read separately, this message suggests the issue has concluded, and Kunmingers can put down their protest posters. With no PX plant in the works, why show up for this week’s protest, right? Continue reading