Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Communist Party's top newspaper called on the authorities to listen to people's concerns about pollution. The paper, which carries the official line, was referring to the latest incident of social unrest in Qidong, a city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, where residents forced local authorities to scrap an oil pipeline plan. At the same time, the authorities have countered the paper's demand with more repression, against demonstrators but also a blogger.
"The public's awareness of environmental issues and their rights is increasing at a rapid pace," a signed commentary said in the People's Daily.
The mainland should strive to "establish an open and transparent decision-making mechanism, and build a tolerant environment for public opinion", it explained.
"Being a responsible government means to make oneself independent of the specific entanglements of economic interests and become the implementer of the public interest, and the balancer of economic interests," it said.
This is a clear reference to the many cases involving local Communist officials who grab land to sell to investors at hefty prices without compensating affected communities and residents.
The paper's opinion reflects a recent shift in popular attitudes towards the authorities, more often than not, fuelled by fear of uncontrolled pollution, and a desire for justice.
Now Beijing appears to be listening. For Scholar Willy Lam, this willingness is only a carrot that does not do away with the stick of repression. After the cases of Wukan and Shifang, where residents achieved their goals, people in Qidong succeeded in having local authorities scrap an oil pipeline project.
These small steps do not counterbalance the many human rights violations still committed by China's Communist party. One recent case illustrates the situation. A blogger who urged Qidong residents to continue their protest was arrested and fined.
The same is true in Li Wangyang case. The veteran dissident, who spent 21 years in prison, for his involvement with the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, died a few months ago in police custody. After hastily cremating the body, the authorities ruled his death as suicide.
Following a wave of protest in Hong Kong and the mainland, the authorities changed the cause of death, claiming it was an accident.
Now, in further twist to the story, Hunan party chief told Hong Kong journalists that ""Li committed suicide," a fact that "is crystal clear with verified evidence."