More Protests in Guangdong as Wukan Delays March (Updated)

The Telegraph is reporting that residents of Haimen, a town of 130,000 just 75 miles from in province, took to the streets this morning to demand the removal of a coal-fired power plant they believe poses risks to their health:

Web photos show a large gathering of people and riot police in a public square, and it is reported about 30,000 people in the town have gone on strike

Demonstrators are claiming a 15-year-old boy had been killed and more than 100 others badly beaten by riot police, but this has yet to be confirmed.

Government officials in the town have so far refused to comment on the incident.

As the riots broke out in Haimen, the Chinese government pledged today to compensate victims of illegal land grabs in Wukan, where villagers have faced off against expelled local authorities since early last week over corrupt development deals and the death of a local resident while in police custody. From Bloomberg:

The government will reclaim 404 mu (26 acres) of land in the dispute and talk to villagers about the best way to develop it, according to an official who answered a hotline set up by the local government to handle inquiries about the protests. The official refused to give his name.

The deal, originally reported in the Southern Daily newspaper today, is separate from one announced on Dec. 16 in which the city of Shanwei announced it was suspending cooperation with a real estate developer, and would decide how to use local land with the villagers, the official said.

Villagers have been preparing to march to the nearby administrative town of Lufeng on Wednesday, after rebuffing attempts over the weekend by local Communist Party officials to discuss a resolution to the ongoing siege. On Monday, however, the center of Wukan played host to a unique sight within China’s authoritarian political system: Democratically elected village leaders holding court with visiting officials in a public meeting that, while perhaps more for show than substance, still indicated a willingness on both sides to discuss the conflict’s most gating issues. From The Wall Street Journal:

The visiting officials spoke with elected village leaders sitting on an open-air stage near Wukan’s center. Dozens of curious villagers looked on. Foreign journalists, more than a dozen of whom have entered the village in recent days, observed and shot video.

Nonetheless, Wukan’s leaders appeared to further dig in for a standoff of several more weeks or months. Speaking to reporters following the morning negotiations, the chairman of Wukan’s elected village committee, Yang Semao, reiterated calls for the government to return land that locals believe was illegally seized and sold as part of a property-development project. He and others have also called for the government to return the remains of , who authorities say died of a heart attack while in police custody, but many villagers believe was murdered.

The Wall Street Journal also posted a photoseries today with more images from Xue Jinbo’s funeral and Monday’s rallies, and a village organizer told Reuters that representatives would hold further talks with the government and lay out what it will take to cancel the march:

Yang Semao, a village representative, told Reuters that Wukan would send three representatives to talk to government officials in Lufeng, the nearby urban centre, and set conditions for calling off a protest march to Lufeng planned for Wednesday.

The government must remove police barricades around the village, allow more reporters to see Xue’s body, and set up an investigation panel into disputes in Wukan, said Yang.

“If they agree to it, then we’ll cancel the petition march tomorrow,” Yang said.

But Yang could have trouble persuading irate villagers to call off the march, even if those conditions are met. As he explained the demands, another villager chimed in: “We’ll still go ahead with the march. They will never agree to it today.”

In the same article, villagers expressed skepticism at the announcement of compensation for the land grab, with one claiming that “it’s all lies, he’s saying one thing but will do another.” McClatchy Newspapers’ Tom Lasseter Tweeted from Wukan today that there was “much discussion about whether or not the march will happen tomorrow,” relaying rumors of “last minute negotiation with provincial representatives” scheduled for tomorrow morning. He wrote on Monday that unease has set in as the villagers wait for intervention by the central government, and a resumption of their normal lives, but are left to negotiate with the same officials they curse in their daily demonstrations. From McClatchy:

“We’re afraid that if we go to Lufeng the police will shoot us, or detain people and beat them to death,” said Shen, a short man in baggy black pants who also didn’t want his first name used.

Organizers have painted a less dramatic picture: If the police don’t allow the procession to pass, they’ll just stage a sit-in.

Shen said that despite his misgivings he’d probably join the march.

“I used to go out to the sea and fish, and then come back at noon and tend my family’s land,” he said. “But now I can’t fish and our land has been taken away.”

Villagers echoed a sense of nervousness in interviews with Radio Free Asia on Monday, which reported mounting stress as villagers plan Wednesday’s march under the threat of force from a police blockade that now boasts several thousand armed officers:

Zhang said tensions were proving unbearable for many local residents caught up in the long-running dispute.

“A lot of local people are suffering from mental health problems now, as well as a lot of kids,” he said. “The authorities are calling us several times a day, telling us not to petition or complain, telling us how many police are waiting to enter the village.”

“These are terror tactics,” Zhang said.

The Hong Kong-based China Media Project, which has kept tabs on Chinese-language news and social media coverage of the Wukan situation, called out an article from one of China’s mainland newspapers – from the Guangdong provincial mouthpiece Nanfang Daily – as the lone report in China’s press today about the ongoing standoff. The article, according to CMP, sends a message to other Party leaders around the country:

The report is essentially an announcement by the top Party leader in the prefectural-level city of Shanwei that the negotiations for an end to tensions will now be principally the business of Shanwei, not of Lufeng, the county in which Wukan Village is located. The bottom line: this hot potato has been bumped up a level on the Party power ladder.

The appearance of the article in Nanfang Daily is most likely meant to reflect to leaders around the country that Guangdong is prioritizing the handling of this crisis.

While onlookers await the unknown on Wednesday, Jacqueline N. Deal ponders the fallout from the movement in Huffington Post:

The consequences: Those responsible for maintaining social stability in China will now have to invest even more in local informants to stay abreast of nascent unrest. Already, estimates based on leaks from provincial security bureaus put the number of domestic spies in China at about 39 million, or three percent of the population. (By comparison, in East Germany under the Stasi, informants made up 2.5 percent of the population.) The Wukan precedent is also likely to inspire efforts to make sure that a town cannot survive for long without access to external supplies. Food, water, and medicine stocks in localities could now be regulated.

Even more troubling for the central government, the grievances of Wukan-ites are representative of a broader problem in China. CCP members readily confess that is rampant. According to the former China bureau chief of the Financial Times, a local official who pays 300,000 yuan for a position can expect to pull in five million within a couple years of occupying his or her post. Most of this will be outside the salary attached to the position, make no mistake. Bribes, kickbacks, and the seizure of land for real estate development deals are part of a predatory system whose victims are ordinary Chinese people. It is the general population that suffers when shoddy materials are used in the construction of schools and roads, or even airports, in the case of the new terminal outside Beijing that recently collapsed. The general population is left homeless when they are evicted without compensation, or with payment insufficient to cover the cost of another residence.

These issues are at the forefront of internal party debates on future economic and social policy in the run-up to next year’s leadership transition. A rivalry between spokesmen for different approaches has been much reported. The populist, Mao-invoking leader of Chongqing, , who launched a very public anti-corruption campaign, is said to be vying with , the leader of Guangdong province where Wukan is located, for a seat on the Politburo standing committee.

Update: Early news of the riots in Haimen did not contain an official government response, but more recent coverage does – Reuters is reporting that a government official who declined to give his name said the protesters had dispersed, while an Associated Press story cites a woman at the Haimen government office who hung up the phone after saying the protests were gone. A villager in Haimen also told The Associated Press that thousands of riot police confronted the protesters, though another villager estimated the size of the security force at 100 to 200 in an interview with AFP:

Another demonstrator told AFP that 10,000 residents had blocked a highway into the town to “get attention” after the local government refused to see them.

“We are protesting because we want the power plant to move away. Lots of local people have illnesses such as cancer,” a resident said.

State media reported last month that a 7.4-billion-yuan ($1.17-billion) expansion of a power plant in Haimen had failed environmental tests.

Toxic metals found in local waterways, such as lead, zinc and nickel, “exceeded the standard level”, Caixin said.

Global Voices has corralled a series of posts from Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo about the ongoing situation in Haimen, and pictures of today’s events have emerged on the Chinese Internet as well.

Meanwhile, in Wukan, McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter followed up earlier Tweets about a pre-march negotiation session planned for early tomorrow morning with word from the village’s senior leaders that “they’d be removing barricade from main road into village and that police agreed to do same.” The New York Times also reported that tomorrow morning’s negotiations would be led by two of provincial party secretary Wang Yang’s top lieutenants. Late this evening, according to Lasseter, the village leaders revealed that they had decided to give the negotiations another day and would not be marching tomorrow, according to Lasseter.

Sources:

– “Wukan: protests across South China as riot police take on demonstrators in Haimen” from The Telegraph

– “China Will Compensate Land Grab Victims in Blockaded Village” from Bloomberg Businessweek

– “Chinese Village Plots Taking Protest Wider” from The Wall Street Journal

– “More Photos from the Wukan Protests” from The Wall Street Journal

– “China rebel village sets conditions for calling off march” from Reuters

– “Fishing – and normal life – on hold in Wukan, China” from McClatchy Newspapers

– “Villagers Defy Threat of Force” from Radio Free Asia

– “Lone Wukan report in China’s press” from The China Media Project

– “After Wukan” from Huffington Post

– “China seeks rebel village concessions as new protest flares” from Reuters

– “Thousands protest China town’s planned coal plant” from The Associated Press

– “Chinese police ‘fire tear-gas and beat protesters’” from AFP

– “China: Guangdong Uprising, Now in Haimen” from Global Voices

– “Top Provincial Leaders to Meet With Protesting Chinese Villagers” from The New York Times