Saturday, November 26, 2005

Serve the people?

The whole Haerbin river water pollution episode has become more and more like the communist China we used to know in its whole undertaking.

It's been revealed that no one along the river between the plant at Jilin and Haerbin was told about the pollution, and that the people have been using the water from the river as normal. The Telegraph talks about how the population surrounding the petrochemical plant were not told for 10 days about the disaster (the Times puts the explosion at Nov 13th, which tallies nearer with my memory of it first being broadcast rather than the dates that we were being quoted this week). The reporting of news on TV channels days after the event is unsurprising here - it could actually be the norm. The articles goes as far to say that one government employee who was interviewed admitted that the water had been cut off from one town (Song Yuan), but the residents were told that maintainance was being done - increasing the likelyhood that water would be drawn from the river.

Furthermore, the citizens of Haerbin were then told that there would be a shutdown for repair work with little notice. This caused panic, spread by mobile phones and the internet, that there was to be an imminent earthquake. People rushed to leave the city, causing the tickets to be sold out, and stock-buy bottled beverages (which we have been told sold out within an hour or so throughout the city). At the time, the state run CCTV 9 (an english channel) provided us with a very, ahem, balanced article which concluded with the sentiment that although some people were trying to leave and were panicking, most citiznes just felt "inconvenienced".

The state has admitted there was a cover-up, and allowed some controlled media attacks against those responsible, but they were soon told to stop lest it create greater resentment and unrest. Now soldiers have been drafted in to speed up the clean up and support work.

An article in the Sunday Times today cites one Harbin resident's scepticism of the water that the government has brought to the city in tankers. He says that the government tells them that this water is safe and from deep wells, but how can he trust what they say after this week's events? A tough place to be in.

The state Premier Wen Jiabao visited yesterday to bolster morale and deliver a rousing communist speech - but will this effort be enough to placate the people? We've all seen the lack of speed with which China reacted towards SARS, bird-flu and now this; the great cover-up machine takes a long time to get moving before the people can be told what they 'need' to know! It seems like the behaviour of a young child who is ashamed of having done something bad, and who covers it up, trying to make it seem like they have done less. This isn't the behaviour we need from an international government - let alone the government of such a large and important nation.

Finally I'd like to point out that this was a state owned petrochemical plant.

Earthquake There was an earthquake in Jiujian, Jiangxi province yesterday. the internationla media were told immediately it seems - you can't hide an earthquake from global seismic stations. However no-one here yesterday mentioned it, and it was not in the newspapers yesterday. We'll see about today though. More on that later...


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