The Real Meaning of Public Hearings in Xiamen

Wednesday, December 19, 2007 10:03

Of all the The China Daily headlines I have seen, none were as important to me than Locals oppose Xiamen chemical plant at public hearings

Following my previous post on the changing environment in China’s environment, it is clear to me that unlike many previous dog and pony shows we have seen before, that there is a real change occurring.

From the perspective of the government, I see three major changes:

  1. SEPA and environmental NGOs are being granted a lot of power. There have been public praises by various officials of each, and I expect this to continue.
  2. Local officials are now looking for clean investments. 5 years ago, all money was good money, but now officials are very clear about one thing. New investments must pass environmental impacts surveys, and existing investments must clean up
  3. NRDC Beijing is no longer just rubber stamping deals. they are now reversing local decisions on projects, and will continue to.

That the two events in Wuxi and Xiamen had a systemic impact, that they were not just a dog and pony show or had been swept under the carpet. Xiamen government officials were for the first time giving their residents a voice… and residents took up the opportunity.

One woman – “No. 35” – said the existence of the plant would prompt her to reassess her living situation. “I came to Xiamen from Guangzhou with my husband a few years ago just for its clean air and beautiful scenery. I think I’ll have to leave if the plant is built,” she said.

another resident said

a local lawmaker and also a law professor at Xiamen University, said, “It’s not whether the city should build it or not, it’s that the project must be stopped immediately. It’s time to make a decision now.”

Where I see the greatest change and WHERE MNCs NEED TO PAY ATTENTION is that the general masses have changed. Gone are the days where the public is wiling to accept what they are given. there is active public debate, healthy debate, on the costs of development, and that signals the biggest change.

As someone active in NGOs in china, the history of civil society in China has really been government directed. Name an issue, and you will see where the general populace thought the government was responsible for managing it. That resulted in many top down directives….a system counter to the US where consumers really drive civil society.However, this summer changed all that, and where MNCs need to be careful is that more and more we are beginning to see where the top down approach is being bolstered by the bottom up.

It is a dynamic situation, one that will only gain momentum as flare ups occur, and it is one that companies operating in China need to be aware of as another recent article in the WSJ shows.

China Finally Gives Teeth To Environmental Agency

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One Response to “The Real Meaning of Public Hearings in Xiamen”

  1. Joe Z. says:

    December 19th, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    During my trip the U.S. last week I noticed in the U.S. version of Time or Newsweek magazine a piece by Melinda Liu updating on this topic. Big Surprise: The plant is going to be built anway…….