Saturday, November 26, 2005

Walk the line

UPDATE, 5:04 pm: This is a great article from the BBC outlining the Harbin-Jilin battle over river contamination, and calls for a more robust government role in regulating the system

Or maybe the tight-rope.

I start this post with "I've been everywhere" playing on my computer, but I'm not thinking of Johnny Cash. I'm thinking of the good ol' CCP. The iron fist of order standing between 1.3 billion Chinese and Turmoil. At least that's how it might view itself. And the trials and tribulations of some 4 million or so people that have so far been disrupted by the benzene spill floating from Jilin north on the Songhua to Harbin, and from there to Russia. (map)

The problem that is being reported today in the Washington Post is the growing sense of public unhappiness over the way the situation was covered/uncovered and how people were lied to. According to the Post, the CCP has banned all newspapers from reporting anything but what is published by Xinhua (the U.S. equivalent would be if the government required all news sources to use Scott McClellan's press briefings as their only source).
There is conflicting news though. Fr. Brian's blog points us to a piece in that is remarkably direct in its criticism of the way the situation was handled.

The fact that there is criticism in websites hosted on Chinese servers is surprizing in itself. What is more surprizing is that there are apologies being made by the Jilin provincial government, the Jilin city government, and the companies that operated the plant that blew up.

It seems that the government in China's Northeast is walking a fine line between allowing enough criticism and truth to be uncovered to allow people to vent their fears and frustrations, and yet not allowing so much that people will be emboldened to do something "rash" like start calling for reforms or calling out party/government leaders by name for their contributions to the disaster or the cover up.

My guess is that the only thing working in the government's favor right now is the fact that a long Manchurian winter is just settling in, and the idea of "taking to the streets" in a Parisian way isn't on anyone's mind right now. My bigger fear is that this will quiet down in a week or two, but people will remember it, and if something else goes wrong during warmer months in the next year or two, it will boil over stronger than if people had blown up now.

Authorities near Chongqing might not be as lucky. There were reports a couple days ago about another chemical plant that exploded in Southwest China. It cold there in the winter too, but not as cold as Jilin or Harbin. Let's hope there isn't any chaos coming from that disaster.

I just keep hoping that one of these days, maybe after the 500th mine collapse of the year, or maybe after the 3rd chemical plant explosion in a month that there will start to be structural changes in the way the Chinese operate the regulatory side of the local governments. Clearly what they're doing now is succeeding only at making officials rich and workers dead. Not really a populist notion there.

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