Scant Change in China's Disaster Response From Tangshan to Zhengzhou

Analysts say the ruling Chinese Communist Party doesn't reward officials who prevent disaster, only those who oversee relief efforts.

Scant Change in China's Disaster Response From Tangshan to Zhengzhou

Forty-five years after a massive earthquake devastated the northern city of Tangshan, survivors say the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s disaster response still scores poorly compared with the praise heaped on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in state-run media.

Wang Lihua was just four years old when the Great Tangshan Earthquake rocked Tangshan in the northern province of Hebei with an intensity measuring XI (Extreme) on the Mercali scale just before 4.00 a.m. on July 28, 1976.

At least 242,000 people died, according to official reports at the time, although some estimates have put the death toll far higher.

Wang remembers being left behind frightened as his mother scrambled to try to rescue neighbors out from under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

"People helped each other back then, I have to be honest about that," Wang told RFA in a recent interview. "The troops came in later to clear away the rubble, but before that there was no help, and it was really hard."

Wang said the worst part about the Tangshan quake was the lack of foreshocks or prior warning from the authorities, a pattern that was repeated recently when the central city of Zhengzhou was hit without warning by a massive deluge that swept pedestrians and cars from the streets, and left people drowned or scrambling for their lives as the waters entered subway tunnels, trains, and stations.

"The was no early warning, and the rescue operation was slow to get started," Wang said. "There was huge hardship from the earthquake right up until the PLA arrived, especially for the injured."

"There was no water -- they were pretty much left there to die."

The earthquake anniversary received muted coverage by state media, with state news agency Xinhua posting photos of people gathering in front of an earthquake memorial wall in Tangshan.

As with the Zhengzhou floods and previous disasters, state media coverage has generally focused on the heroic actions of PLA soldiers and miraculous rescues, regardless of complaints by victims on the ground.

Another belated response

Forty-five years after Tangshan, people are asking on social media about another apparently belated response and lack of warning during the Zhengzhou floods.

Why didn't the Zhengzhou authorities warn people in time? the posts wanted to know. Why didn't the government act to protect people in the Jingguang road tunnel and in the tunnels and trains of Metro line No. 5?

The section of the north-south highway that runs through Henan's provincial capital Zhengzhou is nearly two kilometers long and six meters off the ground. 

The volume of the tunnel is about 300,000 cubic meters. In less than three hours, more than 200 cars in the tunnel were damaged and six people were killed, according to official figures, which some fear are a gross understatement of the true toll of casualties.

According to U.S-based political commentator Heng He, said the CCP's system of political reward does little to reward officials who prevent major disasters.

"No matter how effectively you prevented something, this won't be marked [as an achievement on your record]," Heng said. "That's why officials prefer to launch disaster relief operations, rather than preventing disasters."

He said that the build-up and release of upstream waters following heavy rains on July 19 had unleashed a "man-made disaster" on the city of Zhengzhou.

Orders from higher up

According to Heng, the similarities in the government response in Tangshan and Zhengzhou appeared to be linked to a lack of standard emergency protocols for local governments, meaning delays in waiting for orders from higher up.

"Emergency protocols are there to tell you what to do and what not to do," Heng said. "If those aren't available, all they can do in China's totalitarian system is wait [for orders]."

He said that for the CCP's taste, standardized emergency protocols would concentrate too much decision-making power in the hands of local governments.

"They can't allow local officials and departments to wield too much power," Heng said, adding that the net result is that rescue operations just can't be mobilized in time to save people if officials can't act independently at a local level.

According to CCP mouthpiece the People's Daily, the Zhengzhou branch of the People's Armed Police sent out only around 150 officers with around 5,800 kayaks and other equipment to aid the relief effort, to serve a city with a population of more than 10 million.

"The ultimate power to command the army back then was in Mao Zedong's hands, and no one else could give it orders," Heng said. "It is still the same today."

"The CCP's Central Military Commission has taken back command of the People's Armed Police, so local detachments can't issue their own orders," he said, referring to a reform that took place under CCP leader Xi Jinping in 2018.

The armed police's disaster relief duties were then outsourced to a company, China Aneng, which sent in the first group of around 50 people from Hebei, Anhui, Jiangsu, and elsewhere a day after the flood hit Zhengzhou on July 20.

Germany-based water conservation expert Wang Weiluo said that if there has been any improvement in China's disaster relief capabilities since Tangshan, it hasn't been organizational.

"It is mainly on the technical level: pumps, excavators, and so on," Wang said. "They definitely have much more technical capability than before."

"The thing that hasn't changed is the absolute and centralized command structure for disaster relief operations," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Hong Kong Independent Media Group Will Relocate to Singapore

Initium Media's executive editor tells readers that the road to freedom in the city has gotten harder and harder in recent years.

Hong Kong Independent Media Group Will Relocate to Singapore

An independent news website has announced it will relocate from Hong Kong to Singapore in the wake of a crackdown on political opposition and press freedom under a national security law imposed on the city by Beijing.

Initium Media announced the move in an open letter to readers posted to its website.

"In the past six years, the road to freedom has become a harder and harder one ... and Hong Kong's press freedom index has fallen to the 80th place in the world,"  Initium's executive editor Susie Wu said in an open letter to readers posted to the Initium website.

"We will move our headquarters to Singapore and produce content through online and decentralized methods," Wu wrote.

"We hope to send you this signal: not to be depressed about [Hong Kong's] predicament ... The road to freedom is long," she wrote. "Thinking and questioning are things everyone can do to safeguard their independence of thought."

Asked by Taiwan media whether the move was linked to a draconian national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020, Wu made no direct reply.

Public speech or actions that are critical of the Hong Kong or Chinese authorities have been criminalized under the law.

On July 29, a court in Hong Kong sentenced the first person under the law.

Meanwhile Steve Vines, a Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) columnist and former show host for government broadcaster RTHK, said he had left Hong Kong for the U.K.

"The white terror sweeping through Hong Kong is far from over and the near-term prospects of things getting better are simply non-existent,” Vines said in an email to friends and colleagues quoted by the HKFP.

"Hong Kong is now in a very dark place as the Chinese dictatorship has slashed and burned its way through the tattered remains of the One Country, Two Systems concept," Vines wrote, in a reference to promises by the CCP that Hong Kong would keep its political system, traditional freedoms, and judicial independence for at least 50 years.

'Leaving is not easy'

Political artist Kacey Wong said he had already left Hong Kong for Taiwan because he needed total freedom of expression.

"I have already left. Leaving is not easy, staying is also difficult," Wong said in a farewell letter posted to social media. "We have known each other for 51 years, I will not forget you."

"Let’s treasure each other, goodbye Hong Kong,” he wrote on his Facebook page, alongside music and quotes from Vera Lynn’s World War II hit "We’ll Meet Again."

Wong's political performance art has included works referencing the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and pro-democracy movement, Chinese censorship, and the national anthem law banning any disrespect to the Chinese national anthem in Hong Kong.

"For me, the critical moment for the decision to leave was the 47,” he said, in a reference to the arrests of 47 former opposition lawmakers and democracy activists for "subversion" under the national security law after they took part in a democratic primary ahead of elections to the city's legislature.

Wong said he had also been denounced by the CCP-run Ta Kung Pao newspaper. Denunciations in state media are increasingly a precursor to arrest under the national security law or illiberal, colonial-era laws relating to sedition and public assembly.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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