Tag Archives: PX

Anning refinery fined for violation of national environmental laws


The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a modest fine over the weekend to anAnning oil refinery. While the “administrative penalty” did not specifically mention pollution, the facility in question has been the source of public concern and controversy since construction began in 2013.

Yunnan Petrochemical Company, a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, was fined 200,000 yuan (US$31,000) for violating articles 19 and 24 of the national Environmental Protection Act. Specific details were not disclosed beyond mention of “significant changes and unauthorized construction” without the company filing required environmental impact assessment (EIA) documents.

However, the two statutes Yunnan Petrochemical Company was found to be in violation of are both concerned with the construction of factories or processing installations deemed potentially harmful to the environment. Article 19 is specifically concerned with the “utilization of natural resources”, and reads, in part:

The development and utilization of natural resources is bound to affect and damage the environment, [including] resources such as water, land, forests, grasslands, oceans, minerals…All types of exploitation of natural resources must comply with the relevant laws and regulations and fulfill ecological environmental impact assessment procedures according to law…and key construction projects, must comply with soil and water conservation programs should [or] otherwise will not be allowed to start construction.

In addition to the fine, the Anning refinery was ordered to shut down construction on the parts of the factory not in compliance with EIA requirements. Those sections will be allowed to reopen only after the proper documents have been submitted and approved by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The refinery, which processes “ten million tons” of petroleum each year, has been a source of community concern since construction began outside of Anning in 2013. Local residents feared the plant would produce the chemical paraxylene — an important ingredient in the manufacturing of plastic bottles and polyester clothing. If inhaled or absorbed through the skin, the gas causes varying degrees of damage to abdominal organs and the central nervous system.

Concerns over the potential danger the facility could pose to public health went viral on microblogging services, and led to large street protests in Kunming. The city’s mayor eventually addressed demonstrators, promising to look into the matter. However, no substantial news of a final decision was made public, and the refinery operated without further media comment until Saturday.

This article written by Patrick Scally was first published here on the GoKunming website on September 1, 2015.  Eastbysoutheast.com reported extensively on the the PX protest issue in Kunming in 2013.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Energy, Governance, SLIDER, Yunnan Province

The anti-Vietnam protest that didn’t happen

Kunming’s Nanping Jie Square, the site of Sunday’s non-protest.

The ringtone on my wife’s cell phone abruptly called us awake at 8:30am on Saturday. The caller ID displayed the name of one of my closest friends and colleagues in Kunming, yet I wondered why he was calling my wife. “Comrade, good morning,” rang out his thick Sichuanese accent.  This was a standard greeting among my circle of friends, but calling someone comrade in China has long gone out of fashion.

“There’s something I have to tell you.”

So it turns out he spent the previous day at his workplace, a local university, holding meetings with top administration and security brass discussing how to prevent the university’s students from attending a protest scheduled for Sunday, the next day. He told me that a group of Vietnam war veterans from China’s 1979 punitive invasion of Vietnam received approval from the local civil affairs bureau and the local public security bureau to march on the Vietnamese consulate in downtown Kunming.  The scheduled march was in reaction to the growing movement of anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam that left more than 20 Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese dead in the previous week.

The starting point was the city’s main pedestrian square at Nanping Street; the march would commence at 9am and finish at 2pm at the consulate.  His call was a warning for me to lay low – for all foreigners to lay low – because foreigners, especially Caucasian foreigners could serve as a potential target for angry, nationalistic protesters.  He was also calling to warn me to stay far away from the protest.  He knew I had a penchant for observing and writing about protests in Kunming, and my actions in the past had landed me and subsequently him only by guilt of association in a little trouble with local security officials.

To help place the gravity of the situation squarely on my shoulders, he told me of how he spent the previous evening having meetings with the students under his supervision, pleading them not to attend the protest – even though it was a legal protest – for fear that it may turn violent or take a turn toward other issues that were suppressed and mulling around in the hearts and on the minds of disgruntled people in Kunming.  In fact, his work group in cooperation with a successful commercial real estate form had arranged a 5 kilometer eco-walk scheduled for Sunday morning, but due to the protest he decided to cancel the event.  His university and the firm apparently poured a good deal of money into the event so he was quite put out by the cancellation.  “Right now, we will do what it takes to ensure stability at any cost.” I had heard those words too many times in the last 18 months living in Kunming.

His parting words before hanging up were also ones familiar to me: “Stay at home and have a good time with your wife.”

This season of South China Sea’s flare-ups and shenanigans is heating up once again.  To provide a quick rundown of the last 10 days: China parks it’s billion dollar oil rig 150 miles off the coast of Vietnam near Da Nang; rams a few curious Vietnamese ships, super soaks other onlookers with high pressure water hoses; foreign ministries respond with sabers rattling; protests broil in Vietnam; Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese factories burn; people die unnecessarily due to this tricky, inane, orderless, yet extremely critical game of cartography, resource grabbing, and interpretation of the current world order.  And to round out the week, the first organized civil response in China comes from….Kunming?

In some ways Kunming makes sense.  The pathway of China’s 1979 spring invasion of Vietnam cut through southeastern Yunnan province into Vietnam’s Lao Cai province.  The three month war was a tough decision for the newly installed Deng Xiaoping.  He sought to punish Vietnam for its humanitarian invasion of Cambodia to take out the Khmer Rouge and install a new caretaker government, in some ways Deng thought this would help make good on his warming commitment to US-China relations.  Many of the troops sent to Vietnam were stationed in Yunnan, Kunming specifically.  Many did not return.  In total approximately 70,000 soldiers and civilians died in the three month conflict.

Both sides claimed pieces of victory.  In the end, China chalked up fewer casualties and proclaimed the incursion’s main purpose was to scare the Vietnamese before retreating.  The Vietnamese army valiantly as always pushed back most of the encroaching forces as the PLA entered the provinces to the north of Hanoi.  The caretaker government in Cambodia was not handed over to the Khmer people 1979.  Officially the caretaker government left in the early 1990s, and some argue that the pro-Vietnamese caretaker government is still in power.  To me a China’s claim to victory holds little water – just like its 9 dash line that lays claim to the near entirety of the South China Sea (which by the way holds a ton of water, fish, and most importantly energy resources.)

But then again there is little about Vietnam’s South China Seas claims that make much sense either.

From my experience interacting with locals, very few Kunmingers, and Chinese people in general, under the age of 50 know the story and context of the 1979 war.   I was not surprised to learn that a group of organized veterans still operated in Kunming given that veteran groups from WWII were still active in Yunnan and much is done in this city to preserve WWII related heritage. But how many were there and how many would show up for the march on Sunday? An organized effort that received government approval and raised the alarms of state related institutions like my friend’s university would likely bring out at least one hundred people. Would they be able to rally more than 1000 Kunmingers under the intense midday sun similar to the anti-PX protests (not government sanctioned) of nearly exactly one year ago?

Would the protesters flip and set cars alight?  Wait, Vietnam doesn’t produce cars.  Would they target people who appeared to be Vietnamese? Wait, I won’t finish that sentence.

On Saturday evening, a crowd of Kunming’s expats gathered for the soft opening of a New York style pizzeria.  The chatter was (sort of) abuzz with talk of the next day’s scheduled march and protest.  Over the previous two days word of the march had spread, for better or worse, among the community via the popular Chinese social media app WeChat, and now the gathering enabled the conversation to go from digital form to the soon-to-be-obsolete vocal communication style characterized by eye contact and hand gestures.

“Did you see how close China’s oil rig is to Vietnam’s shoreline?  It’s totally in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone.”

“What’s an Exclusive Economic Zone?”

“Yo, this South China Sea shit’s been going on for years.  All these countries play around with each other like they’re still in middle school.”

“That 9 dashed line just showed up in on China’s official maps in 1954.”

“Why Kunming?”

“Maybe the anti-PXers will show up to the protest again and then it could get really ugly.  Wait…maybe the Uighers will plan another attack?  And do you think things will be different now that Kunming’s police forces can carry armed weapons?  What’s happening to our city?  This used to be a really cool place to live!”

“Those Vietnamese love to play games, they learned how from the Soviets.”

“I’m totally going to wear my bright red “Made in Vietnam” shirt with the big yellow star tomorrow.”

“Maybe that’s not the best idea.”

“What’s an Exclusive Economic Zone? And dude, where’s my beer?”


Those who watch the Sino-Vietnamese relationship closely know that the situation is not getting any better despite the rosy accolades of year-on-year bilateral trade increases, strengthened cooperation on the (lately not-so-successful) repatriation of illegal Uighur immigrants from Vietnam back to China, and a new high-speed rail and road network connecting Vietnam to China.  Watching the relationship from Yunnan province only amplifies the growing crevasses.

Looking locally and outside of the South China Sea conflict, foreign direct investment between Yunnan and Vietnam is on the decline and according to the Vietnam Ministry of Industry and Trade office in Kunming, several key Yunnanese invested projects in Vietnam have been put on hold.  Last year Vietnam Airlines suddenly cancelled its daily flight from Kunming to Hanoi.  Two years ago you could readily buy Vietnamese Banh My sandwiches from food carts in downtown Kunming, and now none are to be found.  Enrollments of Vietnamese nationals into Kunming’s university level Chinese language programs are on the decline and are eclipsed by students from Thailand and Laos.  This spring, neighboring Guangxi province closed the border to watermelon imports from Vietnam which gouged prices at home in Vietnam and angered many farmers.

The list goes on, but I must mention that the yearly China-Vietnam Friendship Tennis Tournament which traditionally ushers in Kunming’s Southeast Asia Expo has been suspended for the last two years.  Both sides suspect each other of stacking the line-up with semi-pro players and accuse each other of foul play.

Waking on Sunday morning, the day of the march, I pondered the deterioration of this relationship. It was clear that more were losing than winning, but how many of Kunming’s everyday citizens are directly affected by the recent cooling and would the protesting veterans be able to gather enough onlookers into their fold in order to make an impactful statement?

I also pondered my friend’s advice on whether or not to go observe the march – but only for a few seconds.  With my smart phone charged to the max and ready to live-tweet the march as I had done for the past anti-PX protests in Kunming, I mounted my electric motorbike and made way to the protest zone, picking up a concerned friend along the way.  He promised to help navigate the security arrangements citing experience recently gained on a week-long trip to Pakistan.

I’ve learned in the past 18 months that the signals of a protest in China begin to appear well before arriving on site, and given this sanctioned protest site was staged for the same site as last year’s initial anti-PX protest, I had a well developed strategy to lay low and observe from afar lest I be spotted and photographed by the local security apparatus.  As we approached the downtown pedestrian square at 9:15 just after the march was scheduled to begin, we saw very little increased security presence.  From 100 meters away it was easy to see the center of the pedestrian square was cordoned off by local police forces to create a space the size of two football pitches.  Local police mingled in and out of the zone, and some middle-aged men sat in the shade of some trees on the periphery of the zone.

So far no sign of a protest presented itself.  No banners, no t-shirts, no slogans, no face masks, just a nearly empty square.  In fact, the most conspicuous aspect was the plain clothes policemen scattered around the square.  Always slightly overweight, deep tan, same crew-cut, off-color collared polo, and the signature man bag containing who knows what – the uniform of the Chinese plain clothes policeman is always easy to spot.  I also spotted a fellow blogger sitting in the shade inside the protest zone – his blond locks and European pedigree always stand above the crowd at Kunming’s protests in which he often finds himself smack in the middle of.

There still wasn’t any action, so my friend and I ducked into an adjacent shopping mall and rushed up to the a 2nd floor Starbucks to find a seat on a sofa beside a window overlooking the square.  Needless to say the position of our perch made us feel more like spectators at a sporting event than at China’s first anti-Vietnam protest of the 2014 season.  We were free to comment and tweet at will.  No security forces were going to bother us there.  My VPN was on line and the connection was kicking.

From our bird’s eye viewpoint, we observed a line of ten paddy wagons parked on the southern edge of the square. A small platoon of SWAT police in riot gear made rounds of the square.  Still no protesters.  A WeChat message popped up on my cell phone from the blond blogger sitting inside the zone.  “Situation normal, just loads of police presence, no sign of protesters….Another Kunming couldn’t care less story.”

And that was just it.  Kunming really couldn’t care less.  We estimate that fewer than ten veterans showed up.  Their t-shirts with Chinese flags gave them away.  At about 10:30am, the veterans formed a half-circle in the middle of the square and were escorted around half of the square by uniformed police. Their march lasted less than a minute.  A cameraman from the local television station sitting on a shaded bench missed the procession because his boredom turned to a brief chance to catch a nap.

At 10:45am, the cameraman picked up his bags and went home. Nothing to see here folks.  By 11am the temporary fences were removed, and the pedestrian square exposed to the intensity of the midday sun once again filled with local shoppers making their way through Kunming’s commercial downtown.

I was relieved that nothing happened.  Perhaps word came down from high for the veterans to cool their guns since the Vietnamese government was making good on its commitment to control the anti-Chinese movements and violence within its own borders.  The last thing our little city needs is to have its blue sky reputation tarnished by another incident making the international news and filling the Sinosphere and the South China Seas with flotsam and jetsam.


Filed under China, Current Events, Economic development, Energy, Foreign policy, GMS, Governance, Regional Relations, SLIDER, South China Seas, Uncategorized, Vietnam, water

Unstoppable: Kunming’s environmental protest movement takes a powerful turn


protest view

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


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Mixed signals and smokescreens: Kunming’s government responds to Anti-PX protests

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

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Anatomy of a Protest: Kunming citizens voice concern over chemical plant

Saturday’s peaceful protest in Kunming may be the first of many against a polluting PX chemical plant slated for construction inside Kunming’s city limits. Nearly 2000 people participated in the well organized protest, and the crowd met zero resistance from the 200+ police and public security officers sent to the site to maintain order. For more than three hours, citizens wore “No PX” face masks and paraded around the protest site waving banners and posters sporting slogans like “PX project, get out of Kunming” and “I want green!” Different from other protests I’ve seen in China, the organizers divided the site into teach-in zones where crowds of hundreds could listen to those who had a message to deliver. In the end, no arrests were made and there were zero scuffles between protesters or with the police.


Continue reading


Filed under China, Current Events, Economic development, Environment and sustainability, Myanmar/Burma