Sunday, 16 August 2015

Going Through the Motions

Li Keqiang (right) checks out the site of the explosion earlier today
The number of dead in the Tianjin explosions has now reached 112, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang finally made a visit to the site today, though Xinhua only gave a brief summary of what he would do: visit firefighters, rescuers and those injured.

"He will also direct further rescue operations and treatment of the injured, as well as handling of the aftermath and production safety," the report said.

So... does Li have experience in dealing with chemical explosions and have medical knowledge in how to treat victims who were injured in the blasts on Wednesday night?

Surely he should really be deferring to experts in the field? Or do these rescuers and medical staff not know what to do, or must wait for his signal before going ahead?

These phrases seem so anachronistic, but they are brought out each time a disaster happens and a senior Chinese officials dutifully goes to inspect the site.

Meanwhile Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote instructions that the Tianjin blasts and a string of serious accidents exposed severe problems in the work safety sector, and the authorities must always keep "safe development" and "people's interest first" in mind to avoid such accidents.

These seem quite obvious, but surely an investigation needs to take place before such vague statements can be made?

Work safety has never been much of a priority for China, and all of a sudden it is on the President's mind.

Will this accident finally give work safety the attention it sorely needs? Or is this just another stock phrase to show the government is concerned?

But many Chinese citizens are not buying it, particularly those who are related to the victims of the disaster, or living in the port city near Beijing.

Some have joked that the air was too toxic until Sunday for Chinese leaders to breathe, despite local officials saying the air was fine, and adding no emergency crews were ill from chemical contamination.

They are racing against time before it next rain to contain the at least 100 tonnes of sodium cyanide at the site that can create noxious gases if reacted with water. That could not be a more stressful task.

And online censors are trying to control heated criticisms of the government and its handling of the disaster, calling it "a real life Pinocchio" in hashtags, and demanding the truth of what is really going on.

At press conferences, Chinese officials are unable to answer a lot of questions posed by journalists, only replying with "let me check" or "next question". Hardly gives anyone much confidence in the authorities.

Interestingly, the day of the blasts coincide with the 1,000th day of Xi's ascent to power, and hint that perhaps this Tianjin incident was the beginning of his end.

But we shall see how much punishment and blame goes around: access to public registries have been blocked, though the National Enterprises Credit and Information System revealed information about Ruihai International, the company that owns the exploded warehouse.

The chairman is listed as Li Liang, that overseas Chinese media have identified as the nephew of Li Ruihuan, a Tianjin-born former Politburo member and chairman of the Chinese People's Consultative Conference.

Considering much has been covered up, Li and his nephew have pretty good guanxi so far...

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