Mayor Promoted Amid Flood Chaos

Criticism mounts against the lack of preparedness by officials in China's capital city.
2012-07-25
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Chinese workers clear up damaged cars and debris after heavy rains in Beijing, July 23, 2012.
AFP

China on Wednesday announced the promotion of the mayor of Beijing to the much more powerful post of city Party chief, amid widespread criticism of the government following deadly floods on the city's outskirts.

Guo Jinlong resigned his position as mayor at the same time as Wang Anshun was appointed acting mayor in his place, the Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday.

"Previously, Guo was elected secretary of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on July 3," the agency said.

The announcement came as more rain was forecast to hit the capital and amidst allegations that authorities were masking the true extent of flood-linked casualties from last weekend's rain.

Beijing city government spokeswoman Wang Hui repeated official reports on Tuesday that 37 people died in the rainstorms and flooding that followed, but pledged to issue timely updates if more people were found to have died.

"If there are new figures we will immediately tell you," Wang said.

Meanwhile, the head of worst-hit Fangshan district, Qi Hong, told reporters Tuesday that Fangshan had suffered major losses. "The numbers are still in the process of being compiled," he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Wei Dedong, a professor at Beijing's prestigious People's University, called on his microblog account for Beijing residents to take to the streets on Saturday as a mark of respect for those who died in the floods.

Many residents of Fangshan say there are large numbers who remain missing following the disaster, meaning that the death toll could rise still further.

Lacking infrastructure

The flooding has proved a major embarrassment for China's capital, which spent billions of dollars modernizing the city while apparently neglecting its drainage systems.

Netizens, analysts and some state media have joined in criticism of the city's handling of the crisis and its lack of preparedness.

According to Beijing University of Science and Technology professor Hu Xingdou, the official Chinese media was still singing the praises of the rescue effort in the aftermath of the floods, with very few analytical pieces on the factors that led to them in the first place.

"There are very few that are looking closely at failures on the part of the government," Hu said. "But there are obviously some systemic factors involved here, and some officials who received funding for infrastructure only produced projects that were for show."

"They totally neglected projects that like the underground sewage network; stuff that you can't see," he said.

Netizens and other commentators have also noted that the worst flooding occurred in Beijing's "new districts," which have mushroomed in the past 20 years out of what was previously a belt of farmland around the outskirts of the capital.

"The older parts of the city like the Forbidden City, the northwestern area and the Summer Palace ... were all relatively unscathed," Jia said. "Most of the problems occurred in the new districts."

"It seems as if the older sewage and drainage systems are more effective than the more recent ones," he said. "Modernization doesn't mean the same thing as economic growth, or improvement in relation to certain indices."

Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service and by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.