NIMBY in China‏

13 Feb

The so-called NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) phenomenon refers to cases whereby individuals and/or communities oppose the construction of facilities such as waste treatment infrastructure, prisons, and drug rehabilitation centres in their neighbourhoods. The NIMBY label is frequently used pejoratively to denote selfish, irrational opposition to projects deemed necessary for the public good. At the same time, some scholars have argued that NIMBY is a rational response to actual or perceived risk. NIMBY interventions are also viewed positively in that they sometimes compel decision makers to incorporate public opinion into facility siting decisions.

Media reports suggest that NIMBY actions are becoming more common in China (particularly in urban areas), yet this remains a largely under-researched topic in the academic literature. Some questions below for you all to think. Presentations related to this topic is welcome too.

    To what extent are NIMBY actions a special phenomenon/form of political participation in China?
·       Under what conditions citizens engage (or do not engage) in NIMBY opposition
·       The impact of NIMBY actions on policy-making and state-society relations
·       Variations in NIMBY activism based on social and demographic groups, issues at stake, level of government engaged, etc.
·       Strategy and tactics used by NIMBY actors; how and why these tactics may change over time
·       Comparisons between NIMBY actions in China and those witnessed in other countries
·       State strategies for addressing the NIMBY phenomenon ? including their effectiveness and consequences
·       The limitations of NIMBY activism, and the prospects for it to develop into broader, more sustained social movements



2 Responses to “NIMBY in China‏”

  1. jpt1g11 February 17, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    It’s quite interesting to study the NIMBY issue in China, due to a factors which don’t typically affect many other countries in a similar position to China.

    The opposition to the issue entirely differs on a case by case basis, but as a generalization, since more areas of China are becoming industrialized, it will mostly affect rural areas. As noted in the seminars this week, rural space in China is disappearing gradually, mostly to make space for more economic facilities.

    The main difference between China and other countries in this particular situation is the political climate that such protests are made in. Some scholars would argue that China has shown little tolerance for protestations which go against the common good of the CCP and more generally China.

    Response tactics have varied depending on the popularity and severity of the protests. In some cases, the local authorities have attempted to resolve the issue and reach a compromise. However, where the protest are seen as out of line with the CCP, responses have ranged from simple censorship to re-education through labour, still controversial outside of China (Source: It is worth noting that the response under earlier communist regimes in China could have been quite different to those taken under the current government.

    A number of factors specific to China limit how easily they can be compared, but it still provides an interesting comparison to other Western countries.

  2. ags2g09 February 18, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    NIMBY presentations have become, over time, a sound form of public political participation. For evidence of this we need look no further than November 2012, when the Chinese public in the city of Ningbo announced the suspension of a government-funded petrochemical project after days of concerned citizens protested about the negative impact such a project would have on their local levels of pollution. This turn of events seems fairly normal in China – where the government comes under high levels of pressure from the public to act, one thing happens – the government back down, and the citizens win. The particular instance in Ningbo saw a government official claim there would be no further work on the project, amid public fears regarding the production of paraxylene (PX), a harmful chemical used in the manufacture of certain types of plastic.

    However, the real question to be asked is this: does this somewhat unorthodox form of public participation in the political process have any sort of lasting effect? There are suggestions that it does not – that in fact, all the public have the power to do is delay the proposed government action. For example, regarding the PX project spoken about above, a source described as ‘closely linked’ to the project has claimed that once public anger dies down, the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) will nevertheless proceed with the $8.8bn project in Ningbo’s Zhenhai district – including the much-maligned production of PX.

    Why is this the case? According to the Council of Foreign Relations, the answer is simple: bowing down briefly under the surge of public opposition is a ‘worthy trade-off’ for the government, who will naturally be concerned about the growth of these protests into much larger beings. It might seem to the more critical of observers that the public are simply being placated while the government does what it can to ‘bide its time’. Indeed, the public are a lot less organised than the government – by the time the ‘crisis’ has subsided, the government will know far more about future developments in any potential project that previously concerned members of the public.

    This form of governance model may be called ‘unsustainable’ but there is a sense of unknowing common to both government representatives and local officials as to what the best course of action actually is. Indeed, should the PX factory plan resume, it is not something that would be unheard of – last August, in Dalian, the government agreed to close down a PX plant – yet it is still running now, closing down ‘slowly’ amid government claims that an immediate, complete shutdown would be ‘impossible’ (due to, inter alia, worries about public safety and livestock).- despite being agreed upon during the stages of public outcry. The same thing happened (yet again, with a PX plant – in fact, this PX plant might be seen as the influence for members of the NIMBY movement everywhere to attempt rejecting PX) in Xiamen in 2007. Public protests meant that the plant was not built in Xiamen, but it was built a year later in the neighbouring area of Zhangzhou with no effective issues.

    Therein lies the problem – what actually happens if the government back down? Should the public realistically regard that as a victory? In my view, it is more important that the ‘what’ question is answered, whatever the answer is – at least then, the players in the process would have a modicum of certainty about what to expect! That is the exact problem currently being encountered by Oji Paper Co – a Japanese company that was supposed to have a waste pipe built in Qidong, just north of Shanghai, in July of last year. ‘We are operating on the view that the pipeline will be built. There is no alternative plan’. That is what officials are saying, but in reality, they need answers. Everybody concerned with NIMBY movement needs answers. Everybody needs clarification. For now, all that is certain is that the government have to take note of an angry public. The answer to the question ‘what-happens-next?’, however, remains frustratingly elusive.

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