BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese aluminum company targeted by protests over pollution fears in a northern Chinese city says its production facilities conform to the highest international environmental standards, but that it hasn't decided whether to proceed with a massive investment in a new plant.
Video footage circulating on social media purportedly from the protest in the northeastern city of Daqing near the border with Russia showed more than 200 people chanting and holding banners outside the city government headquarters. Several dozen police officers stood guard outside the building.
The 46 billion yuan ($6.7 billion) plant proposed by aluminum producer Zhongwang Holdings would create more than 30,000 jobs, according to a government statement about the project forwarded by Zhongwang's media manager, Jiang Qihan.
Zhongwang and the Daqing government agreed to cooperate on the plant in 2011, and it is slated to produce 2 million tons of high precision aluminum and aluminum alloy per year, according to the statement.
In a separate statement, Zhongwang said it was a maker of aluminum products and did not engage in either mining or smelting, the most heavily polluting parts of the production chain.
"Zhongwang is a socially responsible company committed to environmental protection and innovation," the statement said. "As a mid-stream player, our production complies with international standards," it said, adding that most of its production facilities were imported from overseas and met "international environmental requirements."
Since the Daqing project remained in the planning stages, the protests would not affect current operations, the statement said. A decision on whether to proceed with the plant would be made based on an "internal study and other factors," it said.
Hong Kong-listed Zhongwang describes itself on its website as the "second largest industrial aluminum extrusion product developer and manufacturer in the world and the largest in Asia." Founded in 1993, it has more than 90 production lines with a total annual production capacity of 1.2 million tons, it said on its website.
Protesters on Tuesday chanted "Boycott Zhongwang; refuse pollution," according to footage of the demonstration.
A woman who answered the phone at the Daqing police hotline said that residents worried about possible pollution protested in front of the Daqing government building Tuesday morning, and dispersed in the afternoon. She refused to identify herself.
"Everyone in Daqing is against the project," she said.
A man in the publicity department of the Daqing Public Security Bureau said he had no immediate comment.
Daqing has been hit hard in recent years by the shrinkage of the state industrial sector as the region's oil fields are pumped dry. The surrounding province of Heilongjiang is part of China's rust belt that has seen large population outflows as young people leave for rosier economic opportunities to the south.
Tackling the problem of pollution remains a serious challenge for the Communist Party that erodes its legitimacy among the people.
The Daqing city government said that it attached great importance to economic growth and "even more importance" to the environment and residents' concerns. It said it was paying attention to people's concerns and was inviting national experts to assess the environmental impact of the project. It said it would organize seminars and other discussion forums for residents to express their views.
It added that any "illegal gatherings, defamation, starting rumors and disturbing social order would be dealt with according to the law."