The landslide in Yunnan province which has already claimed the lives of eighteen children is the latest in a series of natural disasters to affect China over the past few years. Coming just a month after almost one-hundred people were killed in Yunnan and the neighbouring province of Guizhou by an earthquake, China’s population appears more vulnerable than ever to the forces of nature.
What is particularly noticeable is that these disasters invariably occur in impoverished, rural regions far from China’s economic heartland. Here, living standards have not risen commensurately with Chinese economic growth, with the benefits being exclusively reserved for urban dwellers in the big cities. Infrastructural development has been slow to arrive in provinces in Yunnan. Hence, its particular vulnerability to natural disasters.
Whereas the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was formerly accused of unnecessary expenditure on provincial backwaters in a blatant undertaking of pork-barrel politics, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has continued to ignore the plight of its poorer citizens.
This is a dangerous precedent. With new media forms making the news more accessible to even the most remote regions of China, citizens will be building an impression of their government as uncaring and distant. With the poor protection from natural disasters, coupled with shoddy road and rail projects and embezzlement of funds by local CCP cadres, it would not take much for a concerted rural uprising to develop. This may, in turn, lead to greater agitation amongst the middle classes for political reform, particularly if economic growth slows. When threatened in the past, the CCP has resorted to nationalist rallying and political repression. With the East China Sea islands dispute still raging, don’t be surprised to see further organised demonstrations outside Japanese embassies across the country. The CCP is a master at diverting attention.