Is China Putting Profits Ahead Of Its People?
The deadly crash involving two bullet trains in China’s Wenzhou province in late July was due to design flaws and was “completely avoidable” according to the director of the State Administration for of Work Safety, Luo Lin. The Chinese government had previously attributed the accident, that killed 40 and injured dozens of others, to a signal failure. Luo did not specify if the flaws were in the trains or the wider rail system; he also noted that the accident had revealed “problems in emergency response and safety management after the failure occurred,” says the BBC.
On Friday, the state-owned manufacturer of bullet trains in China, North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Ltd, had said that it is recalling 54 bullet trains. The recall is not directly linked to the crash, which involved trains made by a rival company, says the Guardian. But the recalled trains are from the much-celebrated Beijing-Shanghai line, which was launched on 1 July to mark the 90th anniversary of the Communist party.
China has been on a drive to have the world’s largest high-speed train network. It has achieved that, but at such an accelerated pace — it took China seven years to build bullet trains that achieve speeds of 350 kilometers an hour; it took Japan almost 50 years to build trains that achieve speeds of 300 kilometers an hour — that suggests it has little concern for safety protocols and for the protection of consumers. The revelation of a corruption scandal had already cast a shadow over the project and many people have started to accuse Chinese authorities of putting profits and politics ahead of the safety of civilians.
The Wenzhou accident revealed the extent of the Chinese government’s anxiety about its ambitions for the high speed railroad: The media were banned from reporting on the accident other than publishing “heart-warming” stories of the Chinese people’s devoted response by giving blood and other actions. But a huge public outcry on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, arose over the government’s attempts to cover-up the accident, and the investigation of it, with nationalistic propaganda.
The accident should also remind us here in the US that — even as China’s economy roars ahead with 9 percent growth and China, which holds $1.1 trillion in US debt, takes it upon itself to scold Americans for “living beyond their means” — the Chinese government has more than a few internal problems that it strives to keep mostly hidden from the world. The government has started to increase protocols about food safety, especially after a 2008 scandal in which at least 300,000 babies were poisoned by baby formula containing melamine. But deep frustrations and even distrust remain among the Chinese people towards its government: The BBC also reports that a clash about parking rules set off a riot on Thursday between police and hundreds of people in Qianxi in Guizhou province, one of China’s poorest. Local authorities had reportedly shoved an elderly woman for parking her motorbike illegally; crowds gathered outside the Qianxi local government building and wrecked cars belonging to local officials and attacked police. Ten people were arrested and the riots were over by Friday.
Citing a previous incident in which a disabled fruit peddler was said to have died at the hands of local officials, the BBC observes that “analysts say such incidents are on the rise in China, and provide one of the most pressing challenges to the rule of the Communist Party.” When anonymous calls went out in February for people to gather in “Jasmine Revolution” protests inspired by the uprisings in the Middle East, Chinese authorities acted swiftly with stepped-up security presences. Activists including human rights lawyers and world-renowned artist Ai Wei Wei were arrested; Ai has just revealed that he was kept in a tiny room with two uniformed military police sergeants stationed no more than 30 inches away for nearly three months.
Riots like those in Qianxi and in Anshun — and the bullet train accident and the sudden changes made in its shiny high-speed rail network — suggest that the Chinese government is not as in control of its own country as it would like the world to think.
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