2017-12-26 11:50:06

Facing mounting pressure to meet environmental targets, a city in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu has ordered hundreds of businesses to suspend their operations for two weeks.

Kunshan, a county-level city about an hour’s drive west of Shanghai, issued an emergency notice on Dec. 24 requiring 270 companies — including factories for Tsingtao beer, Giant bicycles, and Foxconn and Samsung electronics — to temporarily shut down in a last-ditch effort to help the city meet its water pollution control target, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Tuesday.

According to the notice, monitoring data indicated that Kunshan had only a slim chance of meeting its water pollution control target, given that its water quality is relatively poor in sections of waterways assessed by national and provincial authorities. Three sections in particular have consistently failed to meet the provincial standard.

To ensure that the city meets the central government’s requirements for next year, businesses near the three most polluted sections were required to cease operations from Dec. 25 — just one day after the notice was released — until Jan. 10. The state of the water quality after these two weeks will determine whether the shutdown will be extended, the notice said.

Zhang Sanmei, whose circuit board factory is among the businesses being shut down, described the unwelcome surprise as “unbearable.” But Zhang told Sixth Tone that today, the 270 businesses were informed that they would be allowed to operate at half capacity, which means her factory will be allowed to run a day shift but no night shift.

Zhang believes the policy was relaxed because of backlash from the business owners. “Environmental protection needs to be improved, but such drastic action is unreasonable,” Zhang argued, adding that rather than force a handful of private companies to make such a large sacrifice, more holistic measures were needed. “Imagine a company being notified at night that they have to stop work the next morning,” she said. “Can the company afford this loss? What about the managers and the workers?”

Kunshan’s manufacturing industry, particularly electronics, is the pillar of its economy. In August 2014, an explosion at an automotive parts factory with a reputation for unsafe working conditions killed 97, injured 163, and caused direct economic losses of 351 million yuan (over $53 million).

Though Zhang’s company won’t be severely affected by the restrictions, she said, others will. Officials at Kunshan’s environmental protection bureau declined to comment when contacted by Sixth Tone.

Since the central government released its water pollution action plan in 2015, the country’s cities and provinces have gone to great lengths to comply — in part due to the fact that performance on environmental evaluations can make or break political careers.

The Chinese government has vowed to improve the country’s “black and smelly rivers,” setting a target of achieving 70 percent clean water in seven major river valleys across the country by 2020. However, a report on the environmental action plan for the first half of 2017 showed that some regions — including Jiangsu — are still behind schedule.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A man walks in a stream next to a factory damaged by an explosion, Kunshan, Jiangsu province, Aug. 2, 2014. Sun Zhan for Sixth Tone)