The unexpectedly huge protest movement in China’s Hubei province appears to have won a victory against the city of Wuhan, which announced on Tuesday that a controversial incinerator project has been put on hold.
Wuhan residents were angered by the planned construction of a waste-burning plant on the sight of an odious landfill that was supposed to be converted into a public park. They were further angered by the lack of transparency around the project, which secretly got underway even as local officials insisted no final decisions had been made. Also, there are already several trash incinerators in the area and they have been found to emit both unappealing odors and dangerous levels of toxic pollution.
The size of the resulting demonstrations, which grew with each passing day last week, clearly took the Chinese government by surprise. The Chinese government does not react well to surprises, so Beijing’s massive censorship apparatus was deployed to scrub news of the Wuhan crisis from the Chinese Internet, while riot police were dispatched to clear the streets over the weekend.
Rumors spread that even harsher actions were contemplated if the demonstrations began spreading across China or merging with the protests in Hong Kong. There is considerable public discontent across China with clumsy efforts to handle the waste problem from its rapidly growing cities.
The Communist Party is constantly nervous about regional unrest metastasizing into a nationwide challenge to its authority. Some of the Wuhan protesters were moving beyond critiques of municipal government and criticizing the Communist Party in rather aggressive terms. They were also becoming adept at circumventing China’s censorship brigade and penetrating the “Great Firewall of China” to spread their message across the country and around the world.
Although the protests appeared to have been quashed over the weekend, Wuhan city authorities announced on Tuesday that the incinerator project has been put on hold until “misunderstandings” with the public could be cleared up. The announcement may not placate the more skeptical protesters, who complain that different officials at the city and provincial levels have given conflicting answers about the status of the project.