Capital's new leaders battle anger over floods

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2012, 12:00am


The new leadership in Beijing is scrambling to deal with the aftermath of the city's worst rainstorm in six decades, amid mounting public anger as more complaints emerge of officials' poor handling of the disaster.

After original reports of large amounts of water that accumulated under bridges, and tens of thousands of stranded passengers at the airport, attention has shifted largely to the worst-hit area, Fangshan district. Meanwhile, many internet users have expressed concern that the actual death toll could be higher than the official count of 37 plus seven people still missing.

Apparently aware of the simmering anger, Guo Jinlong, who was named Beijing's party boss about two weeks ago, made a high-profile visit to Fangshan at 11pm on Monday. Guo is also tipped to be a rising star in the upcoming 18th Party Congress.

In what appeared to be a comprehensive publicity campaign to pacify the angry public, mainland media were packed yesterday with reports and footage of how Guo talked to the victims at midnight and ordered local officials to accurately report the toll and publicly release information about the natural disaster in a timely manner.

Beijing media also reported that Guo had taken the lead in making donations to victims and their families, adding that the Beijing government had ordered all cadres to follow suit, and noting that Guo told victims to write to him if they had problems.

But the publicity effort was quick to draw fire from internet users, many of whom mocked Guo's remarks about officials sparing no effort in maintaining stability in the capital. One microblog user, posting under the name Wang Weijia, questioned whether officials had read a word of the criticism posted online.

Meanwhile, the government's internet censors were busy deleting not only criticism of officials' handling of the disaster, but also horrible accounts of people in the disaster.

Well-known writer and social commentator Li Chengpeng, who lambasted the government's poor urban management and said officials' response to the storm was dwarfed by the rescue efforts of ordinary residents, found his ire-inducing comments pulled.

Another deleted anecdote involved a detailed narrative of how a woman and her fellow bus passengers managed to escape an inundated bus and seek safety atop another bus floating along the Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway, before being rescued by nearby factory workers. Before the account was deleted, some internet users made comments such as 'That's more terrifying than a Hollywood thriller!'

And with censors kept busy, propaganda officials have continued their push to direct public attention to the government's rescue efforts.

Lu Wei, a deputy mayor and the official in charge of propaganda, visited the Beijing Times on Sunday night and praised the media for 'sticking to stories of achievements worthy of praise and tears', and demanded more such reports.

Beijing city government spokeswoman Wang Hui told reporters yesterday that the government had been and would continue to be truthful in its reporting of the death toll. 'Doing the inspection work is not easy. Do believe us that we will speak the truth,' Wang said, according to Associated Press.

The Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway reopened at about noon yesterday after being flooded on Saturday. There was still a backlog of flights at the capital's airport, mostly Hong Kong-bound flights delayed due to the typhoon in Hong Kong.