Chinese Cement Plants Shut Down by Local Authorities

By Feng Riyao, Radio Free Asia
October 18, 2006 12:00 am Last Updated: October 18, 2006 12:00 am

Discontent is brewing in Nanyang City, Henan Province, China, after a large number of cement plants, lime kilns and quarries have been forcibly shut down. The shutdowns, ostensibly carried out on the grounds of environmental protection, have allegedly led to tens of thousands of lay-offs. After one workers' protest was broken up by police, larger protests are said to be planned.

Workers staged a sit-in protest on October 9, hoping that the Nanyang Municipal government would address their situation. In response, the government refused to negotiate, and instead employed approximately 100 police to break up the protest. Police action resulted in three injured, including a sixty-year-old worker who was seriously injured.

Mr. Zhu, a protest participant, said that the protesters only want the municipal government help them to get their money back. He added that he found the police's violence incredibly irritating.

According to Mr. Zhu, after the government released a report about water pollution control and management in February, it quickly banned and shut down nearly 200 cement plants, lime kilns and quarries. In Pushan Town, at least eight more cement plants have been ordered to be shut down by the end of this month. He estimated that the livelihoods of nearly 50,000 workers and their families have been affected by the shutdowns, and that those workers were planning to organize a large-scale protest urging the local government to supply aid or assistance.

Another laid-off worker, Mr. Li, said that because the majority of cement factories have been shut down in Pushan, the town is full of the jobless workers. Li added that facing this situation, he feels helpless thinking of the future of his family.

Radio Free Asia called the Nanyang City Police Bureau inquiring whether the workers were beaten during the sit-in-protest. A staff member denied the claims. The municipal government's environmental protection office also denied that any cement plants had been forced to close.

Mr. Li Jiana, a human rights activist concerned with labor issues, said that while there were indeed serious pollution issues, these plants were not really being closed to protect the environment. Instead, the shutdown of so many cement factories exposes the corruption of the officials and the plant owners.

One cement plant, Huafeng, is a joint venture between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Local authorities cut off its electrical power and water supply on Sep. 17, forcing a complete halt of manufacturing. Since then, more than 400 jobless workers have stayed in the factory day and night requesting compensation. At the same time, they have put He Yanxia, a female general manager from Hong Kong, under house arrest.

Miss Cao, the spokesperson of the Beijing Office of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) promised to keep a close eye on He Yanxia and offer possible assistance.