A number of days ago a rail crash happened in China when two Chinese high speed trains collided with each other.  Around forty people were killed and many more have been injured.

The crash has provoked a spate of articles suggesting that the crash is somehow symptomatic of problems within China and that it shows the extent of corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability in China.  Several commentators notably Isabel Hilton and Will Hutton have claimed that the accident serves as an indicator that unless China carries out “reforms” (code for remodelling itself on western lines) then it is heading for collapse.

I find this sort of commentary offensive.  Accidents happen in every country.  They are an unavoidable reality of modern life.  In recent years the US has had to struggle with the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and Japan with the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  Britain in the 1990s experienced major disasters on its railway system and its ferries.  There have been many other disasters in many other places. Indeed disasters are so commonplace that more often than not they scarcely get reported outside the country where they happen.  There has for example just been an almost entirely unreported disaster in a coalmine in the Ukraine in which over a score of people have died.

What happened in China was a tragedy.  It is a heartless and cruel abuse of the victims and their families to use this tragedy to score political and ideological points.

8 thoughts on “CHINA RAILWAY CRASH

  1. ‘It is a heartless and cruel abuse of the victims and their families to use this tragedy to score political and ideological points.’
    Steady on, Alex. It was an accident, not an act of God. One should always consider whether and how such an event might have been avoided, and – even if one’s analysis is flawed – this might lead to a political comment made in good faith. Are you asserting that it is not made in good faith? And even if not, it’s an exaggeration to call it ‘heartless and cruel abuse of the victims and their families’, who I’m sure neither know nor care about these articles.

  2. Yes I do say that these comments are not made in good faith. If people want to argue that the accident happened because of human negligence and that there are problems with the Chinese railway system then that’s fine. What the comments do instead is use the accident to make a general criticism of China’s political system. I am not a fan of China’s political system or of its government but I do not think it is right or moral to use a tragedy in this way. The reason the makers of the comments do so is because they do not only do not like the political and economic system that China has but because they are angered and alarmed about its economic success. They have therefore seized on the tragedy in order to cast doubt on that success and are exploiting it to engage in some tendentious China bashing.

  3. Irrespective of the responsibility (or otherwise) of the Chinese government for this particular accident, are you saying that one may not criticise any government for its responsibility for any accident, because this is to turn a ‘tragedy’ into political point-scoring? If so, would you extend this beyond accidents? If one person dies for reasons which are, let us say, arguably connected to cuts or changes in the National Health Service, does that mean that one may not criticise those cuts or changes, because that is exploitative? If not, how is (let us say) a mismanaged train system any different?

  4. You have misunderstood my point. As I said in my response to your first comment if people want to make comments about human negligence or about problems with the Chinese railway system then they should do so. If they want to say that the Chinese government’s policies with respect to the railway system are bad or wrong then obviously they should do so as well. That is not however what the commentators I have mentioned are seeking to do. What they are doing is saying that the accident happened not because of bad policies, negligence, corruption or incompetence but because of the nature of China’s entire political system, which for ideological reasons unrelated to the accident they dislike. This is grotesque. As I said in my original post accidents happen in all industrial countries even the best ordered. We here in Britain are no exception. To say that the accident happened because of the nature of the Chinese political system is ideologically blinkered and all but says that if China had a different political system such an accident could not have happened. That is absurd and since those who make this claim cannot seriously believe it, it is an exploitation of the tragedy to suggest it.

    • I think that the reason for the misunderstanding is that you have conflated – or at least not sufficiently distinguished – two separate points. First, the exploitation of a tragedy to political ends. Two, making (what you consider to be) an invalid political point in bad faith. The strength of your moral and emotional condemnation of the first gave the impression that it was not restricted only to cases involving the second. Is it, in fact, thus restricted?

  5. Hasn’t Will Hutton in particular predicted about 10 of the past zero Chinese economic collapses?

    I completely agree with this post. When accidents happen in “normal” countries, they are just that – accidents. But when a boat sinks in Russia, it is portrayed as representative of every economic, social, and political ill (real or perceived) in Putin’s kingdom. When a Chinese train crashes, it is supposed to be the harbinger of the derailment of the entire country.

    What can one say… журнализды.

  6. I am not sure that you are right about this. Surely it is the bad faith that leads to the exploitation of the tragedy for political ends? When the oil rig accident happened in the Gulf of Mexico many criticised the response of the US government and its poor regulatory system that allowed the accident to happen in the first place. No one however suggested that the accident happened because the US is a liberal democracy. Nor did anyone say that such accidents are bound to happen because the US is a liberal democracy and that the proper US response to the accident was for it to cease being a liberal democracy. Had anyone in the mainstream British media said such a thing they would have been rightly criticised. In truth there is no possibility that such a comment would have got published. I am not saying that the Chinese government should not be criticised. What I say is that to use an accident to try to discredit an entire political system is wrong.

    • Understood!

      But the charge of exploitation of tragedy does get made even in such cases as the American one you cite below (on the part of people, in that case, defending the government). And, of course, they are partly right. One can be tempted even to welcome a spectacular confirmation of one’s critique of a particular system or policy in the form of a terrible event. And yet, I suppose, it is in the nature of behaving politically that one cannot respond to every event personally.

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