China is struggling to contain the political fallout from explosions in the port city of Tianjin (which has a population roughly equal to New York’s). The explosions damaged an estimated 17,000 homes last month, and, according to the New York Times, some 8,000 households have yet to receive any compensation:
Tianjin officials announced that as of midnight Thursday, more than 9,000 households, representing more than half of those affected, had signed agreements to settle their cases. Some chose to sell their damaged apartments to private developers, at 130 percent of the original price, while others decided to keep their homes and allow the government to make basic repairs for free.
As an added incentive, the local government, eager to quell public outrage over the disaster, offered bonuses of 20,000 renminbi, or more than $3,100, for those who agreed to settle their claims by Thursday night.
Several Tianjin residents said on social media sites and in interviews that they had been pressured into dropping their cases.
As we observed after the explosions occurred, an insufficient response to this crisis would do serious damage to President Xi Jinping’s reputation for competence, particularly amidst deepening economic troubles. So far, Beijing has sought to minimize the damage by silencing critics: The government has jailed hundreds of people for “irresponsible” reporting on both Tianjin and the stock market, even as Xi was taking his lumps on social media for the country’s economic troubles.
Beijing needs to make this all go away fast. Tianjin may not be a make-or-break crisis for Xi on its own, but as part of a broader storm that China is be sailing into, it cannot be ignored.