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Cablegate: Senior Citizens Seize, Hold Suspect Wastewater Plant To

VZCZCXRO2274
RR RUEHAST RUEHDH RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD RUEHSL
RUEHTM RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGZ #0534/01 2530915
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 100915Z SEP 09
FM AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0907
INFO RUEHGZ/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE 0253
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0707
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 0194
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 0204
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0195
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0266
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 0190
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE 0017
RHMFIUU/HQ EPA WASHINGTON DC 0027
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC 0244
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC 0240
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI//J00/J2/J3/J5// 0015

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 GUANGZHOU 000534

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM, DRL AND OES/PCI
EPA FOR OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV PHUM ECON PGOV CH
SUBJECT: Senior Citizens Seize, Hold Suspect Wastewater Plant to
Preserve "Evidence of Pollution"

REF A: BEIJING 2548; REF B: BEIJING 2121

GUANGZHOU 00000534 001.2 OF 003


(U) This document is sensitive but unclassified. Not for internet
distribution. Please protect accordingly.

1. (U) Summary: Residents of villages neighboring a controversial
wastewater treatment facility near Quanzhou, Fujian Province,
expelled workers and occupied the plant August 26 in protest of
government claims that the plant's discharges were safe and that the
local water source was unaffected by pollutants. An estimated
10,000 villagers clashed with police and detained two local
officials August 31 after one of the officials physically assaulted
a female villager near the plant. The police pulled back and the
officials were released the following day. Since the incident,
elderly villagers have continued to occupy the wastewater facility,
and there has been no regular contact between the villagers and the
government. Residents are hopeful that high-level government
authorities might resolve the situation, but have said they would
respond forcefully if police attempt to retake the facility by
force. Congenoff met with villagers near the site on September 5 to
hear their story and encourage a peaceful resolution to the
standoff. End summary.

Pollution Concerns and Cover-up: "Preserving the Evidence"
-------------------------------- -------------------------

2. (SBU) Though they could not agree on the precise date, villagers
involved in the incident told Congenoff during his visit to the area
near the village on September 5 that representatives from the local
environmental protection bureau (EPB) visited Houshan Village in
Fengwei Township in Fujian around August 20, apparently in response
to complaints about noxious fumes emanating from a water treatment
plant. Houshan residents claim that their village suffers
uncommonly high rates of cancer and other illness, which they
attribute to poorly treated or untreated discharges from a nearby
tannery and other industry. When EPB officials returned August 26
to examine the water at the plant, villagers were told that the
water was harmless and that the discharges met environmental
standards. The officials also suggested that the wastewater would
not pose any threat to the villagers' health and that it was safe to
be discharged directly into the sea, according to Houshan residents.
The villagers, suspecting corrupt motives behind the officials'
unwillingness to address the pollution problems, told us they then
became angry and decided to occupy the plant. They forced the plant
workers to leave and have occupied the plant since August 26.

3. (SBU) According to the villagers, when local officials returned
to the wastewater treatment plant August 31, the villagers expected
them to discuss the case and seek an acceptable resolution.
Instead, the officials planned only to discharge the wastewater
directly into the sea and subsequently rinse the holding tanks with
clean water, said the villagers, who opposed the plan. The
villagers suspected that the local officials hoped to eliminate
evidence of the extent and type of pollution causing sickness and
discomfort in the nearby villages.

Problem Escalates From Confrontation to Minor Riot
--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (SBU) Estimates differ on the number of villagers who confronted
approximately 2,000 police August 31, but media report at least
10,000 and the villagers themselves claim as many as 20,000, noting
that people came from several nearby villages to participate.
According to the Houshan villagers, the confrontation began when the
township's deputy party secretary hit or slapped a woman outside the
plant and then attempted to flee by car. Several villagers
prevented his escape, after which the official exited his vehicle
and punched a villager blocking his way, according to the villagers,
who said the angry crowd then destroyed the official's car. The
official and a colleague were detained by the villagers.

5. (SBU) When riot police arrived and fired tear gas into the crowd
of protestors, villagers responded by throwing stones. The
villagers claim that, not having heard gunshots before, they did not
initially realize that police were using non-lethal means against

GUANGZHOU 00000534 002.2 OF 003


them. Believing they were under attack from firearms, the villagers
began to panic and then responded using force, according to the
villagers. Only minor injuries were sustained during the
confrontation, during which the police withdrew.

Police Withdraw After Scuffle; Calm Ensues; Stand-off Continues
------------------------------ ------------ -------------------

6. (SBU) The plant is now "guarded" by elderly volunteers -- mainly
women -- to prevent officials from entering. According to the
villagers, these efforts are truly grassroots; there is not even
anybody organizing the coverage by the volunteers. There have been
no police at the water treatment facility since the August 31
incident, though residents claim there is a plainclothes police
presence in their village. Officials, according to the villagers,
have fled the village in fear of being beaten or otherwise
assaulted. On September 9 a villager told Congenoff by telephone
that although the village remains calm, village residents are
becoming increasingly angry that officials -- at any level -- appear
unwilling to engage in discussing solutions to the problem. The
villagers are considering filling the wastewater holding tanks with
soil, hoping the soil will absorb the polluted wastes and reduce the
stench. The villagers claim to have closed all of the pipes through
which wastewater enters and exits the facility. The villagers say
they will not allow the government to restart the plant, and that if
police attempt to retake the plant by force the villagers will
respond likewise.

Villagers: No Abuse of Officials
--------------------------------

7. (SBU) Villagers disputed Xinhua reports of abuse against the two
officials seized during the August 31 riots and later released.
They told Congenoff that not only was violence not used against the
officials, but that they were provided water and a bed during their
detention. Moreover, it was decided to release the officials at
04:00 the next morning because some villagers worried that if the
officials were released during the day their personal safety could
not be guaranteed if angry villagers learned of their presence.

No Communication with the Government
------------------------------------

8. (U) Apart from a hope that unspecified "higher authorities" will
step in to handle the situation, Houshan villagers do not have a
plan to resolve the standoff. As of September 5, the villagers had
no regular communication with authorities. When asked what message
they would like to convey to the government, they answered, "We have
no intention of harming anyone, including government officials,
because we love this country. A handful of government officials
ignore the needs of the community. These officials are greedy and
corrupt." To resolve the situation, either the treatment plant has
to move or the government must provide new residential areas away
from the pollution, said the villagers, who also claimed not to fear
retribution from local officials.

9. (SBU) Villagers seemed hopeful that a September 4 visit by a
couple of individuals claiming to be from the Ministry of
Environmental Protection's East China Environmental Inspection and
Assessment Center would prove a positive development. These
individuals, whose visit was arranged through the village's Senior
Citizens' Association, took samples from the plant for analysis, the
villagers said. Villagers later told Congenoff by phone that they
were looking into the possibility of having a Fuzhou-based
environmental NGO visit to take samples, thus providing third-party
confirmation.

Some Media Attention
--------------------

10. (SBU) Hong Kong-based journalists from NHK recently filmed
extensively at the treatment facility, according to the villagers.
Local print and television journalists, too, have visited, but have
yet to report on the incident, except for a September 2 article in
Xinhua. Reuters has reported the August 31 incident, as have

GUANGZHOU 00000534 003.2 OF 003


several regional websites generally critical of the Chinese
Government. Contributors to one Fujian-focused local
Chinese-language Internet message board called for high-level
government involvement to solve the stalemate, though one
contributor pessimistically characterized the entire wastewater
incident as par for the course in a "river crab society" -- a
pejorative homophone of China's "Harmonious Society" campaign.

Situation Stalemated, Villagers Prepared For Long Haul;
USG Attention Appreciated
------------------------------- ----------------------

11. (SBU) Comment: Villagers, it seems, have completely lost
confidence in government at virtually all levels. They lack
communications lines with government so re-establishing trust and
finding a solution will be difficult. They are hunkered down for
the long haul, with elderly citizens ready to wait it out with no
intention of backing down. The villagers appreciated Congenoff's
visit, and, no doubt, provincial and local officials are by now
aware of the visit. We have no current plans for any further
actions by the Consulate, but we will continue to monitor this
situation and report any developments. End Comment.

GOLDBECK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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