Probe International in the News

Tianjin and China’s industrial calamities

This terrific opinion piece by Xiao Shu, a former columnist for China’s outspoken Southern Weekly newspaper, gets right to the point in saying the country’s “calamitous cycle of man-made disasters is the direct result of a dysfunctional government.” The answer: Give power back to the people.

China has industrial safety regulations but toothless enforcement. Local governments, filled with unscrupulous profit-seekers, act like ruthless corporations, aiming to maximize gain with reckless disregard for environmental safety.

Endemic corruption makes matters worse. Businesses skirt safety and environmental regulations by bribing officials. The Tianjin story illustrates this perfectly.

The government suppresses truth to deter independent thought and deflect awkward questions about accountability. Industrial accidents are the result.

By Xiao Shu, published by the New York Times

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Tianjin is an important industrial port in northern China, about a half-hour ride from Beijing on the new high-speed rail line. The government’s recently announced plan for a northern megacity to better coordinate trade and growth has Beijing and Tianjin at its core. About 100 Fortune 500 companies have investments in the city. Tianjin is seen as the shape of things to come in the new China.

Then on the night of Aug. 12, a series of huge blasts at a hazardous-materials warehouse owned by Rui Hai International Logistics killed more than 100 people and shattered that dream. The explosions reduced the surrounding area to ruins, displacing thousands of local residents, many of whom remain angry at the government’s poor handling of the disaster. The Tianjin accident is the latest in a series of chemical explosions around the country. Continue reading at the publisher’s website here

Xiao Shu, the pen name of Chen Min, is a former columnist for the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly, and a visiting scholar at Columbia University. This essay was translated by The New York Times from the Chinese.

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