The estimated death toll from the wacko rampage in Norway is revised downwards from 93 to 76; that of the Wenzhou high-speed train crash is raised from the low to the high 30s. If we were awarding points for crisis management skills, it would be a different trend.
A quick look at China’s English-language state media suggests that the Ministry of Railways is seriously short of friends; stodgy propaganda sheet China Daily proclaims ‘Hasty burial of wreckage sparks suspicion’, while the feisty, nationalistic Global Times says that ‘Anger mounts at lack of answers on train crash’. With pro-government coverage like this, who needs bloggers and tweeters claiming that the true number of dead might be over 100?
As with Szechuan schools, tainted baby milk powder and all our other favourite Mainland mayhem, some sort of official clampdown will presumably take place before long to erase the scandal from the news pages in favour of heart-warming tales of heroism and world-beating, native technical achievements. Malcontents still creating a public fuss about what happened to loved ones in the crash, and any lawyers brave enough to help them, will be paid off, put under house arrest or jailed. Life will return to sweet, harmonious normality until the next time.
Meanwhile, the uproar is out in the open and the bizarreness is mounting up, with the whole world looking on in bemusement at the sight of what should be accident investigators digging a big hole, putting key parts of wreckage in and filling it in. The quick burial of the front car of the train that rear-ended another was, according to an official, “because the environment of the scene is very complicated. There is soggy ground underneath.” In a story full of interesting quotes, Asahi Shimbun reports that workers at the site did go to the trouble of obscuring rail operator CRH’s logo and the Hexie or ‘harmony’ brand name of the line from the carriages. And they pulled a little girl out alive, even if 21 hours later. Oh, and there’s that little detail about a body or two falling from a carriage as it was hoisted into its trench. Thanks to such efficiency, no doubt, the authorities had the line back in service yesterday morning.
Officials, recently boasting about the wonders of Chinese technology, are now implying that foreign components played a role in the disaster. They also blame lightning. The Japanese, who have operated high-speed rail for around half a century, have never had a fatality – but maybe Chinese lightning is faster and higher-voltage and particularly perilous on soggy ground.
Loss of human lives means nothing to China’s leaders. But after all the vainglory surrounding the high-speed rail projects, the loss of face does, especially at a time when public opinion is becoming less tolerant of official misdoings and the government is becoming increasingly defensive, nervous and hostile towards institutional reform. And this is going to cost money. China’s high-speed rail network was supposed be an advertisement for the best-value modern train technology on the fast-growing world market; these trains were supposed to become a major export. Bang goes that idea.
The South China Morning Post’s Tom Holland proposes that the Hong Kong government now scrap its pointless HK$67 billion (going on HK$97 billion) largely underground, low-speed stretch of high-speed rail linking us via sunny Shenzhen to an obscure suburb of Guangzhou we don’t want to go to at a ticket price many of us would balk at paying. Nice idea; sadly, it would take more – much more – to dissuade Hong Kong’s psychopathic planners and their buddies in the construction and engineering sector from pouring tons of our cash down the toilet. Short of an invasion of train-eating monsters from planet Mars, it’ll go ahead.
The propaganda machine has now been cranked up to full power. Chinese media have been given detailed instructions on how to report the incident and videos on Youku have been edited to remove the footage of falling bodies. Burying the evidence in every sense.
Once again, the combination of a short-sighted blame culture and an obsession with face serve to make things considerably worse than they already were.
For once the Standard was up to standard when reporting the train accident yesterday: even more detail and better pics than the SCMP
But somehow I think the authorities are not going to get out of this one so easily : Wenzhou people are famous for their outspoken-ness and disregard of authority , besides their honesty and business acumen. Remember the reports a few months ago about the village leader who had been complaining about illegal land grabs and was then “accidentally” killed by a cement lorry?
BTW: seeing those pics of the mechanical diggers burying the train wreckage made me think that’s a REAL cover-up
I guess it must have been foreign lightning.
Roland Soong’s blog has been highlighting a recent article in Foreign Policy, “Everything you think you know about the collapse of the Soviet Union is wrong”.
The author claims it was incidents like the train crash that finally led the Russians to realize that Communism was a no-hoper. Let’s hope China’s citizens get the message before 2049
The local press are reporting that the death toll is being deliberately kept so low because there is a rule up there that if it rises over a certain given number then certain local officials must be sacked.
HOT OFF THE PRESS ( SCMP on-line 22.00 PM Wednesday )
Did I not tell you this would happen ?
One mis-deals with Wenzhou people at one’s peril ….
“Bereaved relatives of the victims of Saturday’s high-speed rail disaster near Wenzhou staged a protest at Wenzhou’s South Railway Station on Wednesday – demanding more information about the cause of the crash from government officials.
About 120 relatives arrived at the station shortly after 9.30am, wearing black armbands and carrying photographs of the victims”
“Give us the truth,” they chanted. “Explain yourselves to the dead.”