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Chemical plant to be relocated after public protest
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Following persistent public protest, a controversial chemical project planned for the coastal tourist city Xiamen, Fujian Province, is likely to be relocated, Mayor Liu Cigui said in Beijing Friday.

"We have proposed to relevant central government departments to relocate the paraxylene (PX) plant," said Liu, also a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), on the sidelines of the parliamentary session.

"Faced with the choice of becoming a chemical industry base or a coastal scenic city, we think we should stick to the latter," Liu told reporters after a panel discussion.

"Under the trademark as a modern tourist city, we have decided after careful studies and assessments that Xiamen should focus on finance, logistics, research and development, tourism, high-end manufacturing and service businesses, and become a regional cultural and educational center," said the mayor.

Xiamen residents had been lashing out at the proposed chemical plant, arguing it would be detrimental to the environment and people's health. In addition, the city along the Taiwan Straits would also lose its longstanding reputation as one of the most livable cities in China.

After several rounds of public hearings and debates, the construction was put on hold last June. Experts concluded the southern area of Haicang District, the original location of the planned PX plant, was too small and inadequate for the diffusion of atmospheric pollution.

Liu added the PX plant "is still a good project" and in line with the industrial development scheme of the national government. "It should be moved to somewhere else, because Xiamen is short of land for the project construction."

Lu Zhangong, an NPC deputy and chief of the Fujian Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, commended the Xiamen government on Friday for following public opinion. "The public are right to express their concerns," he said.

Xiamen is the second biggest city in Fujian.

Zhangzhou, another city in the province, has expressed a willingness to accept the PX plant. "Zhangzhou City is capable of constructing the plant," said Mayor Li Jianguo.

However, it is up to the investor to decide where to go.

The 10.8 billion yuan (about 1.4 billion U.S. dollars) project by Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd. is expected to produce 800,000 tons of paraxylene and generate an annual revenue of 80 billion yuan.

Protests against the project is believed to have a far-reaching impact more than on the possible relocation, as China's environmental regulator has promised that public hearings will become part of the approval process for major projects.

"Major projects in the public interests will undergo hearing procedures, with timely responses to public feedback and media coverage," said Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, last December.

"The right to know is given to every citizen," said Zhou, who added that environmental agencies should release information on environmental quality and management and industrial activity that affects the environment.

He said a multi-channel platform for public reporting, supervision and litigation would be built for their environmental concerns.

China's new regulations on the release of environmental information will take effect in May 2008. The rules mandate a reply from the government within 15 days after a public inquiry is submitted.

(Xinhua News Agecny March 8, 2008)

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