After China struggled with nearly a month of back-to-back natural disasters, including unprecedented flooding, Premier Xi Jinping finally re-emerged on Aug. 17 following a noticeable absence. His absence has spawned discontent among Chinese citizens who lamented Beijing’s perceived inadequate response to the disasters.
In a meeting with the Politburo Standing Committee on Thursday, Xi said that the country is currently in the flood season, and called for stronger efforts to aid those impacted by the floods, Bloomberg reported.
“As China is still in the main flood season, rainstorms, floods, typhoons and other disasters still occur frequently in many places across the country,” state-owned news agency Xinhua reported.
Xi also said that “food security must be ensured” and “insurance payments speeded up,” by utilizing disaster relief to help those hurt by Typhoon Doksuri, which struck major areas in China in early August, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.
The storm affected almost four million people with severe floods, which, according to officials, killed more than 30 people in northern China, with dozens more still missing.
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However, the exact number of fatalities and missing remains unknown as Chinese authorities habitually tamper with data to further their agenda and avoid civil unrest, among other things.
The floods caused water levels to rise in at least 90 rivers, with 24 having broken their banks, state media reported.
A mudslide also took the lives of two people in the city of Xi’an on Aug. 11, in addition to the evacuation of 81,000 people from high-risk areas in Sichuan province.
This July, heavy rain hit central China, causing floods that displaced thousands and destroyed bridges. In the city of Chongqing and several parts of southwest China, 15 were killed and four went missing due to the floods.
Hunan province saw more than 10,000 people evacuated from homes before they were destroyed. Damages were estimated to be around 600 million Chinese yuan (US$80 million).
According to AFP, scientists and meteorological authorities had previously warned Chinese authorities about “multiple natural disasters in July, including floods, severe convection weather, typhoons and high temperatures.”
The Standing Committee called this phase of flood relief a “significant achievement,” and requested that governments start using funds made available for “recovery and reconstruction.” Focus is to be made on repairing infrastructure and agricultural areas, with increased supplies of farming materials for food security.
Public facilities like schools, hospitals and nursing homes, as well as people’s homes, were ordered to be rebuilt before the coming winter.
“It is better to be ready at every time than unprepared for just once,” the Standing Committee said.
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Criticism against Xi
Xi Jinping’s appearance before the Standing Committee came after being out of sight since July 31, three days after Typhoon Doksuri hit. His absence prompted online discontent concerning the lack of response to the floods by Chinese authorities, Radio Free Asia (RFA) wrote.
“It proves that he [Xin Jinping] is firmly in control, a manifestation of arrogant power. He’s not even willing to stage-manage [relief and rescue efforts],” Lin Shengliang, a Chinese dissident in the Netherlands, told RFA Mandarin, citing the absence of top leaders in the areas hit by the disasters.
“If the highest national leader doesn’t go to the scene or doesn’t attach importance to the matter, how can those below take it seriously?” asked Lin. “Even if they do take it seriously, it’s just putting on a show for the higher-ups.”
The Economist wrote that Chinese news tends to focus “on heroics by soldiers, officials and rescue teams” amidst growing dissent from social media users.
State media coverage of the disasters has also been “confusing,” even from those from the prominent, People’s Daily.
“If one cannot lead by example and take the initiative, how can others truly be convinced and willing to follow?” a RFA Mandarin commentary said, referencing a People’s Daily article and asked, “Who is the article referring to?”
Xia Ming, professor of political science at the New York City University, told RFA Mandarin that Xi Jinping is facing “a leadership crisis” as his hold on the inner government brings concerns for his safety.
“The grievances of the Chinese people are significant right now. If he were to confront the people face to face at present, the cost of maintaining stability would be high” he said, adding that, “They would certainly need to arrange actors from the masses, and that would backfire rather than achieve the desired effect.”
China politics watcher Wang Dan writing for RFA last week, called the stricken cities in Hebei Province “man-made catastrophes” due to the authorities’ poor handling of the crisis.
Wang also wrote that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “resorted to their usual strategy of lies, blaming the heavy rainfall,” and causing clashes with the population of the city of Baoding.
With Xi’s return, it would appear that his absence only damaged his reputation among the people.
“While we cannot predict to what extent the public resentment caused by natural disasters will impact the stability of the regime, the fact that such resentment is accumulating in China is undeniable,” Wang said.