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Earthquake in China an Important Political Test

More than 100 people are dead after a powerful earthquake struck a mountainous province in China this morning, in a disturbing echo of the 2008 earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people in the same region. In the aftermath of that 2008 quake, the country was horrified both by revelations of shoddy school construction (schoolchildren were killed in large numbers when poorly-constructed schools collapsed) and by the relatively ineffective official response.

This quake will be seen everywhere as a test of the new Chinese leadership. Fortunately, its job will be easier than it was 2008: This morning’s earthquake was a magnitude 7, considerably less powerful than the the magnitude 8 quake of 2008. But as the FT reports, the geography of the region is dangerous, complicating the rescue operation:

The epicentre was in the mountainous part of Sichuan, where frequent landslides and narrow gorges make transportation difficult even during the best of times.

Highlighting the challenging rescue conditions, a truck full of Chinese soldiers trying to reach a remote village in the affected area fell off a cliff, killing several soldiers, according to a People’s Liberation Army officer in Chengdu airport. Xinhua said the government has deployed 2,000 soldiers to help the rescue efforts.

The vice premier has gone to the affected area in a floodlight of publicity. Large numbers of NGOs that started up in response to the last quake are engaged as well. This is not just another earthquake in China; if its performance is seen as largely successful, the new leadership will receive a significant political boost.

[2008 Sichuan earthquake photo courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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  • Lorenz Gude

    Makes me feel self absorbed over the Boston bombings when 400 are killed in China, not to mention 15 in West, Texas. Also interesting that the response of both the Chinese and US governments has been to ‘flood the zone’ with lots of men and equipment. I’m making no point other than noticing a similarity in government style and wondering if it is simply a matter of modern logistics making it possible to muster this kind of response.

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