中国事故対応 隠蔽体質と人命軽視は重症だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Aug. 1, 2011)
Chinese government must stop cover-ups, trivializing life
中国事故対応 隠蔽体質と人命軽視は重症だ(7月31日付・読売社説)

Top Chinese government leaders obviously felt that if they let the problem slide any more, they would bear the brunt of public outrage, rather than the Railways Ministry.

In the wake of the deadly rear-end collision of high-speed trains in Wenzhou in China's Zhejiang Province, Premier Wen Jiabao visited the site of the disaster, inquiring after the victims and expressing sympathy with bereaved family members.

Apparently the Chinese government has switched policies by having Wen come to the fore in dealing with the accident in an effort to draw a curtain over the tragedy.

At a press conference at the scene of the accident, Wen said, "If we fail to think about safety, we will lose [public] trust [in high-speed railways]...Faster does not necessarily mean better."

"We must maintain safety as a priority," he added, before saying the government would publicly disclose its entire investigation into the accident.


Complete overhaul needed

China's high-speed railway network is an arterial means of transportation used not only by Chinese but also foreigners.

It is essential for Beijing to determine the cause of the collision, make public the results of its investigation and work out measures to prevent a recurrence of such an accident.

The Chinese government's investigative team says lightning struck the railway's signaling system, causing a red light to turn green.

The railway authorities should completely overhaul the signaling and automatic control systems of the railway to ensure safety.

Public outrage was intense over what was perceived as the Chinese government's propensity to cover up information and trivialize the lives of people.

When the railway authorities decided to bury a train car immediately after the accident, the public saw this as an attempt to destroy evidence.

The authorities then hurriedly dug the car up, while resuming train operations just 1-1/2 days after the accident.

After search-and-rescue operations ended, a 2-year-old girl was found in a wrecked car.

It is natural that this touched off a deluge of criticism for exemplifying a blatant disregard for human life.

The Railways Ministry initially proposed 500,000 yuan (about 6 million yen) in compensation for the bereaved families of each fatal victim, but later raised this to 915,000 yuan (about 11 million yen), about the same level as compensation for victims of aircraft accidents.

It seems the Chinese government is trying to settle the compensation issue as quickly as possible to silence the bereaved families.


Media criticism

A key factor behind the outburst of criticism against the government was a Chinese version of Twitter called weibo (microblog) that is reportedly used by 170 million people, as well as various video-sharing sites.

This means a large volume of information about the railway disaster was disseminated despite censorship by the authorities.

As a result, the Chinese government issued instructions to domestic media, prohibiting reproduction of weibo messages or covering the story on their own.

Media were ordered only to use articles released by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Some media did not comply with these instructions.

This phenomenon has never been seen before.

We should pay particular attention to what responses the Communist Party's Central Publicity Department, Beijing's censorship organ, will take toward Chinese media that have criticized the government, a practice long considered taboo.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 31, 2011)
(2011年7月31日01時23分 読売新聞)

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