Beijing and Hong Kong – a week of storms

30 Jul

typhoonYou might have seen there’s been a spot of rain in China over the past week or so. I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say it was absolutely twatting it down. The most interesting thing about Bejing’s deadly floods and Hong Kong’s rather camp typhoon, however, is the damage each did and how the authorities handled the aftermath.

I’m not going to launch into another China-slagging post here because the facts pretty much speak for themselves. The ‘worst floods in six decades’ hit Beijing. Apartment ceilings caved in, inadequate sewers and drainage systems collapsed, 70+ people died. How can 70 people die in 6.7 inches of rain? Well, that’s what millions of angry social media users wanted to know, and let their anger at local government be known via the usual weibo channels. Until the posts began, sadly and predictably, to be deleted. Almost a year to the day after the deadly high speed train crash which sparked a weibo backlash over government incompetence, the authorities’ response is still to censor first, think later.

In what seemed like an unusually speedy response to public opinion, Beijing’s major and deputy resigned. However, read between the lines, and Communist Party politics, and the deadly floods were more likely being used to justify a decision which had already taken place in a closed door Party meeting. many moons previously. No-body’s sure exactly why they went so quickly, they just know that it wasn’t an honourable mea culpa.

Cut to Hong Kong a few days later. I looked out of my window at 3pm and saw sideways rain. At about 5pm office workers were told to go home as typhoon Vicente was coming to play, and a no. 8 signal hoisted. Later that night, as the wind grew, a no. 10 signal was raised, forewarning 100mph winds, a near direct hit and the worst storm since ’99. So what happened? Death and destruction? Organisational chaos and government turmoil? Nope. A bit of flooding. About 100 injuries from flying debris. Delayed trains. All was back to normal by about midday the next day.

Oh yeah, and we were all allowed to tweet and weibo about it. Not that there were many complaints – a few people got stranded on MTRs, but nothing too extreme.

Now I know it’s not really fair to compare the two extreme weather conditions, or the two cities. And I know that it’s perhaps unfair to judge Beijing’s local government based on this incident, given they endured a spectacular drenching for a city normally more used to sandstorms and smog. But I’m gonna anyway. Beijing’s big play at the 2008 Olympics was “I’m here, I’m queer”…no, hang on.  It was more: “I’m a modern, global capital. I have the money, the infrastructure and the balls to shake things up around here. Gaze on me with envy London, New York, Berlin. I’m the shit. Yeah.”

Except it was bluffing. As with China as a whole, it grew at such a pace of knots that a lot of the important stuff was forgotten: human rights, environmental protection, the rule of law … proper drainage. We can sit back all smug in the West, and especially in London, as it hosts this year’s Olympics. We’ve had our industrial revolution. Hong Kong too has come through its steep learning curve and thanks to international finance, British know-how and Chinese industry is now one of the best places to live in the world.

The Chinese govt will surely throw billions at Beijing in response to what happened last week, but whether on purpose or not, vital stuff will still get missed off that list.

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