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Focus on China: The East is green?

By Martin Empson - Socialist Review, February 2018

China’s rapid economic expansion is based on massive state investment, low pay and manufacturing for export to the Western economies at the same time as the promotion of domestic consumerism. Global competition for resources and markets means China must continue this economic model. But this brings with it the risk of war, economic crisis and the threat of workers fighting for an increased share of the enormous wealth being generated. But it is also driving environmental disaster on a local and international scale.

Last October Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined a five-year economic strategy. He focused on putting China at the centre of the world economy, offering “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”. But commentators noted how Xi also emphasised the environment, using the word 89 times in the 3-hour, 23-minute speech and pledging to lead globally on the environment.

In a dig at Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement, Xi argued that, “No country alone can address the many challenges facing mankind. No country can afford to retreat into self-isolation.” By contrast he claimed that China had “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”, and echoing Friedrich Engels, concluded that, “Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face.”

China faces an unprecedented environmental crisis. Mao Zedong’s decision to make China’s economy match and then overtake the West triggered numerous environmental problems. But the sheer scale of today’s economic expansion means that China’s environmental crises today are colossal.

China is the world’s leading polluter in absolute terms. The country is responsible for around 30 percent of global carbon emissions, twice that of the next biggest polluter, the US. In per capita terms, China’s emissions (7.9 tons per person) fall below those of many other industrialised countries such as the US (16.4) or Germany (9.2). But this merely highlights the size of China’s population (1.4 billion). Meanwhile, current economic trends will only drive emissions upwards. In 2000 China’s per capita emissions were just 2.7 tons per person.

China: collective resistance against iSlavery

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, October 23, 2017

Review of Goodbye iSlave: a manifesto for digital abolition by Jack Linchuan Qiu (University of Illinois Press, 2016)

When 15 young workers jumped or fell from the upper floors of Foxconn’s factories in China in five months of 2010 – 13 of them to their deaths – it made international headlines. People across the world felt outrage at the oppressive working conditions in which iPhones and other high-tech products are made.

Much less well-publicised were the collective resistance movements that flowered at Foxconn and other big Chinese factories in the years following the “Suicide Express”.

In April 2012, 200 Foxconn employees at Wuhan took pictures of themselves on the factory rooftop, and circulated them on social media, along with threats to jump if the company kept ignoring their demand for a wage increase. The company backed down.

This action “differ[ed] qualitatively from individual acts of suicide. Instead, it became a collective behaviour that successfully pressurised Foxconn to increase wages”, the Hong Kong-based activist and university teacher Jack Linchuan Qiu writes in Goodbye iSlave (p. 134).

Qiu describes a world – our world – in which the latest technological devices are made by workers who are subject to dehumanising super-exploitation, and are also used by those workers in organising collective resistance to their conditions.

The main focus of the book is Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer. Its workforce of 1.4 million, mostly in China, make most i-products for Apple – including iPads, iPhones, iMacs and MacBooks – and devices for HP, Dell, Nokia, Microsoft, Sony, Cisco, Nintendo, Intel, Motorola, Samsung, Panasonic, Google, Amazon and others.

Qiu describes how, after the slew of Foxconn suicides in 2010, the Chinese state – which had always, at central and local level, supported and encouraged the company’s bosses – felt compelled to act.

The authorities sent an investigation team to Foxconn Shenzhen. Its findings, leaked to the press by a trade union official, were that Foxconn workers were being compelled to do up to 100 hours of overtime a month, while the legal maximum was 36 hours; and that the company’s “semi-militarised management system” put too much pressure on workers, both when they were at the factory and when they were off duty (p. 126).

The friction between the authorities and Terry Guo, the multi-millionaire owner of Foxconn and a Chinese media darling, was real enough – but, as I understand it, was aimed at containing and dampening worker resistance at the giant factories.

If that was the idea, it didn’t work. Foxconn workers found new ways of fighting back , and students and others in China found ways to build solidarity.

Anger over China’s Deadly Workplaces after Warehouse Explosion

By Kevin Lin - Labor Notes, September 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A series of chemical explosions on August 12 at a warehouse in the northern city of Tianjin is shining a spotlight on dangerous workplace conditions and precarious employment relations in China.

The accident began with fires at a warehouse owned by Rui Hai International Logistics. The company was storing illegal quantities of sodium cyanide—a highly toxic and volatile substance. Investigators at the site have also found hundreds of tons of fertilizers and other hazardous chemicals.

Firefighters reportedly sprayed water on the flames, which may have contributed to a chain reaction. Two gigantic explosions were large enough to register as minor earthquakes. Fires and secondary explosions raged on for days, creating serious concerns about air and water contamination.

The accident has already claimed 145 lives and injured more than 700. Some are still missing. The casualties include employees of the logistics firm, other workers near the blasts, firefighters, and local residents. Apartments miles from the industrial park suffered broken windows, while poorly constructed dormitories nearby simply collapsed, injuring rural migrant workers inside.

What began as an industrial accident has quickly become an environmental disaster. The week after the blasts, when the first rains came, residents reported a white foam covering the streets and a stinging sensation on their skin. Thousands of dead fish floated to the surface of the nearby Hai River.

For fear of contamination, authorities evacuated residents near the blast site. Military units and biochemical specialists were sent to clean up the area.

Hundreds of displaced residents took to the streets to call for compensation. The families of dead and missing firefighters demonstrated to demand more information and transparency.

The Tianjin Explosion: A Tragedy of Profit, Corruption, and China’s Complicated Transition

By Yixi - chuangcn.org, August 21, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Late into the night on August 12, two massive explosions rocked the Port of Tianjin, immediately killing dozens and injuring hundreds of people. The explosions appear to have been caused by several hundred tons of unsafely stored sodium cyanide, in the container storage lot of Ruihai Logistics, a firm specializing in the transport and storage of hazardous materials.[1] As of 9am August 19, 114 people were confirmed dead, among them 19 Public Security Bureau firefighters, 34 port firefighters, and 7 police officers; a further 65 people are missing, while 674 have been hospitalized.[2] While public organs and journalists continue to investigate the exact causes of the blast, the backstory to the tragedy has gradually come to light. Ruihai, its insecure workers, the frantic development of the Port of Tianjin, and the especially severe abuses of power resulting from a powerful state bureau turning into a capitalist enterprise – all these are parts of the picture.

The Port of Tianjin

If an explosion were to happen at any port in China, Tianjin would have been a likely candidate. Handling more than 477 million tons of cargo and 13 million TEUs in 2013, Tianjin is the 3rd busiest port by raw tonnage and 10th busiest container port in the world.[3] It has a long history as a major trading port in China: an important foreign concession forced open in the Second Opium war, it continued to function as a major port during the socialist era, and then grew by leaps and bounds after “Reform and Opening” (economic liberalization) began in 1978. Tianjin is the closest major port to Beijing, and part of the important Bohai Economic Zone, one of the three clusters of economic development—along with the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta—that have benefited most from China’s economic liberalization. For Tianjin and its port, the past thirty years of reform have meant explosive and sometimes careless growth.

The chemical industry that erupted last week arose as Tianjin began to avidly court foreign investment. On May 12, 1991, with the approval of the State Council, the Tianjin port became the site of a bonded zone—the largest in Northern China, measuring 5 square kilometers. Since its founding, the Tianjin Port Bonded Zone has maintained a startling annual growth rate of over 30% per year, and is now home to more than 500 logistics companies and 3000 trading companies, maintaining regular trade ties with over 100 countries. It functions as an international trading center, a logistics center, a port-side processing zone, and a sales and exhibition center. Operating in the zone comes with tax, customs, and foreign exchange benefits. The cheap labor and investment incentives in the Tianjin Bonded have attracted well-known chemical companies to invest in the area, inviting clusters of dangerous chemical factories into the city. The chemical and hazardous chemicals industry has become one of the ten major industries in the Tianjin Bonded Zone, home also to heavy industries like steel and auto. [4]

Chemical factories have recently become a hot topic for environmentalist and NIMBY-style civilian protests—famously in Wukan in 2012, and in Shanghai this year. But logistics centers, where these foreign-bound chemicals are shipped in and out, are less visible yet even more dangerous nodes in the supply chains of global chemically-dependent industry. Tianjin is a reminder of this reality.

Inflamed Guangdong villagers smash police station over incinerator

By Staff - Want China Times, April 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Following the armed suppression of a protest against the building of an incinerator, tens of thousands of villagers in Luoding in southern China's Guangdong province took to the streets again on April 6 in an escalated clash in which the local police station was vandalized, reports Hong Kong's Oriental Daily News.

Last week, more than a hundred villagers demonstrated against a plan to build an incinerator proposed by a private concrete plant and believed to have been illegally approved by the local government. The protesters set up blockades on a major road near the plant, holding up signs and demanding that the project be abandoned immediately.

Police officers swarmed to the scene and attempted to dispel the crowd with tear gas and pepper spray. Physical violence erupted, resulting in casualties and dozens of arrests.

On April 6, more villagers — now numbering in the tens of thousands — returned to the streets with iron bars and sticks in hand, descending on the police station. They vandalized the property and smashed squad cars while police officers stood in formation and watched.

Villagers told the press that the concrete plant has been burning waste every day for the last two years, severely polluting the surrounding environment. The villagers believe that the situation will be even worse now that the plant has made an under-the-table agreement with the local government to build an incinerator.

According to a local villager surnamed Chen, the mayor of the county-level city of Luoding has announced that the project will be suspended.

Local residents will continue to protest until the project is officially terminated, said Chen.

A deal to save the planet - or to wreck it?

By Jonathan Neale - Campaign Against Climate Change, November 15, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Obama of the United States and Xi of China have signed a bilateral climate agreement.

Much of the American and British media, and many Democrats in America, have hailed the deal as a key step forward. Many American Republicans have attacked it as going much too far. 

Anything the Republicans attack has to be good. Right? No. In fact it is an appalling deal. 

Let's look at the numbers.

The US has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. But 2005 was the highest year ever for US emissions. They have already declined 10% in 8 years. Obama is promising that they will decline another 18% in 15 years. 

China has agreed to reach peak emissions by 2030. Chinese economic growth has been running 10% a year. If that growth continued, Chinese emissions in 2030 would be four times what they are now. But economic growth will not continue at that level, and there will be some progress in energy efficiency. Still, this is a promise to roughly double Chinese emissions by 2030.

The US and China between them produce almost half the world's CO2 emissions (45%). If the US cuts 18% and China doubles emission, their combined emissions will increase by more than a third. 

But it's worse. Because even if they cut emissions in half, they would still be increasing the amount of CO2 in the air each year. They would be warming the planet. Instead, they are increasing the amount of CO2 they put in the air each year. They are promising to warm the planet faster each year.

Chinese villagers vow to 'fight to death' after deadly land clashes Police surround a rural village in southwest China after violence leaves at least eight dead and 18 injured

By Tom Phillips - Daily Telegraph, October 16, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Villagers in southwest China have vowed to “fight to the death" after a long-running land dispute erupted into violence that left eight people dead and at least 18 injured.

Hundreds of police were surrounding Fuyou village in Yunnan province on Thursday morning in the wake of pitched battles between local farmers and hundreds of unidentified men who launched a Tuesday afternoon assault on the community.

At least two villagers and six "attackers" were killed in the skirmishes which appear to have been sparked by a row over a developer's attempts to evict farmers from their land in order to build a logistics centre.

"Villagers are angry and sad," said Zhou Lihui, a 41-year-old resident, who witnessed the battle. "Two of our men were beaten to death. What crime did we commit? All we were doing was trying to protect our land."

Clashes over land are an almost daily occurrence in a rapidly urbanising China, where villagers are often unfairly forced from their homes by cash-strapped or corrupt local officials who sell farmers' lands to developers in order to stay afloat.

However, the violence that has gripped Fuyou village, near Kunming, Yunnan's provincial capital, has been shocking even by Chinese standards.

Graphic photographs circulating on social media appear to show the charred and disfigured corpses of some of the eight people killed on Tuesday. One body has been dumped in a local canal.

Women Lead Sanitation Strike at Massive Education Complex in China

By Yi Xi - Labor Notes, October 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For two weeks, sanitation workers gathered daily on the lawns of Guangzhou’s Higher Education Mega Center—a complex of ten universities serving 200,000 students that has taken over Xiaoguwei island—in the latest of a series of Guangzhou sanitation strikes.

The strike erupted August 26 after the sudden replacement of a contractor jeopardized the jobs of 212 sanitation workers, jobs many had held for a decade.

By the time it came to an end September 9, workers had won an agreement that included severance pay of 3,000 yuan (about $489 U.S.) per year of service.

Tensions are still simmering over whether the new company will rehire all veteran workers as promised. But although the dispute isn’t settled yet, its significance is clear.

This strike, a symptom of the increasing privatization of basic urban services, sets a promising precedent for solidarity between locals and migrants, for women workers' leadership, and for student-worker collaboration.

Chinese Abolone Farmers, Angry Over Pollution, Shut Down Shipyard and Smash Equipment

By Brenda Goh - Reuters, September 23, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

(Reuters) – A shipyard in China‘s southeast has suspended operations after at least 500 farmers, who blame water pollution from the yard for killing their abalone harvest, stormed the yard and smashed its offices, an official at the shipyard said on Tuesday.

There has been no work at the Fujian Huadong Shipyard, which sits on the north coast of Luoyuan Bay in Fujian province, since last Wednesday, said an assistant manager at the factory who gave only his surname, Zhang.

Luoyuan Bay is home to numerous floating farms that cultivate the sought-after shellfish, a delicacy that is eaten in Asia at banquets and even exchanged as gifts.

Public awareness over China’s industrial pollution has grown in recent years and Chinese leaders have vowed to clean up its waterways and skies.

However, violent protests over such incidents in China are comparatively rare. Sixteen people were sentenced to prison last year for their involvement in an environmental protest.

Zhang said farmers from surrounding villages visited the offices of the Luoyuan Bay area Communist Party committee after an unusually high number of abalone deaths in August.

Villagers decided to target the shipyard directly after they received no reply to their petition, Zhang said.

“On the 16th (last Tuesday) some villagers cornered one of our bosses and wouldn’t let him leave, they wouldn’t let him drink or eat,” Zhang said.

“There were at least 500 villagers who arrived the next day,” he said. “After work at the yard stopped, they entered the locked offices of our finance and administrative departments and smashed the computers, cupboards … They left after they got tired,” Zhang said.

Media reports said the villagers blamed the factory for polluting the water in which the abalone was farmed. A Luoyuan government official said they had sent a team to investigate.

The factory, which opened in 2011, switched its focus to ship repair last year after the global shipping slump sapped demand for new vessels, Zhang said. Ship repair usually has a greater impact on the environment, he said, but the reasons for the abalone deaths were likely to be more complex.

He said the factory was waiting for the local government to give the go-ahead before restarting work.

China: Mass Protests Challenge Polluters

By Alexander Reid Ross - Climate and Capitalism, April 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In spite of a media blackout, protests in the Chinese city of Maoming against a PX (paraxylene) plant have proceeded for the past week. Last Sunday, a thousand citizens took to the streets in protest, followed a few days later by 20,000 occupying the area around the government building. Pitched battles between brick-hurling protesters and baton-wielding police have led to dozens of injuries.[1] 

Protests have spread to other areas around the province of Guangdong, including Guangzhu and Shenzhen, where the 20 protesters who gathered were immediately hauled away by police.[2] The local government has proclaimed that it will not move forward with the project unless a social consensus is achieved, which indicates that the plant’s plans will be scuttled. As Chinese news site, Xinhua explains, the protests are a manifestation of “the quandary for a local government seeking a balance between development and stability.”[3]

This is not the first time that group events have struck Guangdong, among other provinces. In 2009, homeowners of Dongguan City began a protest campaign against a transformer substation and luxury business highrise. A few months later, hundreds protested a garbage incineration power plant in the village of Hujiang outside of Guangzhou City, leading to the project’s closure.

In 2011, hundreds of people from the town of Haimen in Guangdong occupied the government building, destroying the windows and office equipment in opposition to proposed power plants. Thousands then gathered at the toll station of the major local highway to gain control over crucial access points as 200 military police fired tear gas at them. Last year, ten thousand residents in the Ninshan District of Shenzhen City signed a petition against an LCD factory. The fight against PX today is a similar repetition of such past uprisings, but it bears deeper meanings when put in current context.[4]

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