Monday, August 16, 2010

Why did the Zhouqu landslide happen?

There's been a lot of coverage recently on the landslide in Zhouqu, China. 1,700 people are either dead or missing after the tragedy.

The news coverage all seem to be in heavy praise for the leadership of the Communist Party in directing their massive rescue and recovery efforts. There are impressive photos and videos of hoards of soldiers with shovels digging and carrying out survivors. Truckloads of supplies are being directed to the area. Certainly, it's good to see this type of effort and response from the federal government. But hang on...

Why did this event happen in the first place? What the government wants the media to report is that record rainfall and the Sichuan earthquake (for loosening the geological structure) is to be blamed. See here for details.

The following are quoted from an article from the South China Morning Post dated 16 Aug 2010.

"Two years ago, geological experts recommended the town be moved because of growing safety concerns that were almost impossible to eliminate."
"...the ministry listed Zhouqu, in a valley between two mountains, as a key site prone to landslides. There can be no question, therefore, that the authorities were fully aware of the growing danger, yet they did nothing."
"...the risk had been exacerbated by reckless development leading to erosion and ecological damage, such as a rash of dam-building and logging, which deforested the mountainsides for 20-odd years until 1998. Since then, it has continued in defiance of a central government ban."
"The excuse of lack of funds to relocate Zhouqu, while real enough, raises complex questions about the nation's priorities. Surely, with all the money that is being spent on the Shanghai World Expo, or on the high-speed rail network, some can be found for urgent measures to protect people's lives. Co-incidentally, with the raised profile of the threat to Zhouqu two years ago, Beijing launched a four trillion yuan economic stimulus package to counter the global financial crisis. Government officials around the country lavished money on infrastructure projects, including their own pet schemes. Sadly, saving Zhouqu was not one of them, though the cost of making a start on it would have been a drop in the bucket."
"an explosion at a Henan coal mine last June that killed 49 workers. The mine probably should not have been operating, after a gas leak killed 12 men two months earlier. But official pressure and hush money was used to cover up the accident. Transparency and a proper inquiry could have saved a lot of lives."

So, where is the backlash against the government? 1,700 lives were lost because of government inaction. Why is nobody upset over this?

Let's compare this with Hurrican Katrina. Or even the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane was an act of nature. The oil spill was because of BP, a British company. Yet, the United States government took massive criticism. I'm not saying the US didn't deserve the criticism; they certainly did. But my point is, why is China able to walk away from this looking like the good guy when it's obvious they shirked their responsibilities?

As former US President George W. Bush would say, "China, you're doing a heck of a job."


  1. Completely agree with you, I'm of Chinese origin and people always tell me how great and even cool China is, but nobody mentions the corrupt and undemocratic government. It's sad - there was a surge of media coverage following the Tibetan unrest before the 2008 Olympics (which, all in itself, was one huge PR campaign) but then things quietened.

  2. @Livven
    Firstly, thanks for reading!
    Know what's odd?
    A couple of months ago here in Hong Kong, a tree branch fell and killed a person. The government received huge criticism for failing to properly inspect the trees around the city. One death was enough to produce this outcry.
    Strangely enough, 1700 deaths in Zhouqu was not enough to generate the same response in China.