Bad decision-making was the main reason for a violent environmental protest in eastern China at the weekend, a state newspaper said in an unusually mild reproach stance after thousands of residents ransacked offices and overturned cars.
Chinese officials cancelled an industrial waste pipeline project on Saturday after the violence in the city of Qidong, the latest in a string of pollution protests across the country.
Similar scenes of violence sparked by environmental fears played out earlier this month in the town of Shifang, in Sichuan province, highlighting the social tensions China faces as it approaches a leadership transition this year.
Authorities are especially worried about maintaining social stability as they balance economic growth and the fallout from environmental pollution.
“An irrational decision-making process is the main reason why the Shifang and Qidong governments experienced mass incidents,” the normally hawkish Global Times said.
It added that the two governments should not be strapped with total blame, because they lacked guidance on handling such cases and had to react to competing pressures to maintain stability and respond to the public outcry.
In a development likely to cause concern in Beijing, some demonstrators in Qidong said they were inspired by the events in Shifang, where the protests were widely seen as having forced the local government to cancel a refinery project.
The spread of a “Shifang-Qidong Model” of violent protest would damage social stability “and present an unprecedented challenge to China’s future development”, the Global Times warned.
“Now is a good opportunity with these classic cases of Shifang and Qidong to undertake serious reforms within the system,” it said.
The People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece and the Global Times’ parent publication, applauded the local government’s decision to permanently scrap the offending project that planned to dump waste water from a paper factory into the sea near Qidong.
It said officials should reflect on recent conflicts and consider the question of how to foster rational interaction between governments and the people to avoid “irrational emotions” and “extreme behaviour”.
“Being a responsible government means to make oneself independent of the specific entanglements of economic interests and become the implementor of the public interest, balancer of economic interests,” it said.
“At the same time (a responsible government should) give the masses a normal pathway to air demands for their rights, establish an open and transparent decision-making mechanism and create an inclusive environment for public opinion.”