In Wake of Rail Disaster, Hints of Beijing’s Power Struggle

July 30, 2011 9:45 pm Last Updated: June 4, 2012 1:19 am
Workers clear wreckage of mangled carriages after a Chinese high-speed train derailed when it was hit from behind by another express late on July 23 in the town of Shuangyu near the city of Wenzhou, in eastern China's Zhejiang Province. (AFP/Getty Images)
Workers clear wreckage of mangled carriages after a Chinese high-speed train derailed when it was hit from behind by another express late on July 23 in the town of Shuangyu near the city of Wenzhou, in eastern China's Zhejiang Province. (AFP/Getty Images)

On July 28 Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao went to inspect the accident scene of the “7.23” tragedy (when two bullet trains collided near Wenzhou) and took questions from domestic and foreign reporters. While answering a question from CCTV, Wen made an effort to distance himself and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao from the decision to bury the train cars that has led to public outrage.

After the tragedy, official media reported that Politburo Standing Committee members Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and Zhou Yongkang gave directions on how to handle the accident. But after Wen stepped out to say his piece, political experts began speculating that the role played by Zhou Yongkang in handling the wrecked train will be gradually exposed to the public. Zhou belongs to the faction of Jiang Zemin, the former paramount leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the unending silent struggles for power and influence that go on between Party factions.

Right after the accident, the train wreckage was cut apart, dismantled, and buried within four days, including the most important D301 train engine section (that rear-ended the stalled D3115 train). Due to strong public and media pressure, the regime was forced to dig up the buried engine section and relocate it. The speed of the cleanup and the hasty treatment of the engine and passenger sections not only violated the common sense handling guidelines for a major accident, but even baffled the regime’s own experts.

Liu Tiemin, Chinese State Council emergency response expert and director of Chinese Academy of Safety Science and Technology, recently accepted an interview with CCTV. During the interview, he bluntly said treatment of the disaster scene was not done carefully. Regarding the “bury the train then dig it up” approach, he said it is “unbelievable” and “doing it that way is laughable.”

In addition, some Chinese media cited China’s “Railway Traffic Accident Emergency Rescue, Investigation, and Disposal Regulation,” which says, “Any entity or individual cannot destroy the accident scene, nor can it falsify, conceal or destroy evidence.” That the media would mention this shows that they disagree with the authorities’ handling of the accident.

The general public in China speculates that high-ranking officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) got involved, turning a normal accident investigation into an event designed to maintain national stability, which is how Zhou Yongkang typically deals with these matters. Without instructions from the Poliburo Standing Committee, the Ministry of Railways and the local officials definitely would not dare to act this way.

On July 24, a day after the incident, official media (Xinhua, China News, etc.) reported that, “After the accident, General Secretary Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, Zhou Yongkang, Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang and other CCP central leaders separately gave important policy instructions.”

Crews Bury Wreckage after Wenzhou Train Collision.  (Posted to
Crews Bury Wreckage after Wenzhou Train Collision. (Posted to

Zhou Yongkang is a member of the Poliburo Standing Committee, and is the secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee and director of the Central Committee for Comprehensive Management of Public Security. These two agencies hold a tight grip on the CCP’s tools for domestic suppression, such as police, courts, and the often criticized Urban Management Bureau.

During the press conference on July 28, Premier Wen claimed he came despite his illness. In one of his answers, Wen hinted that he and Hu Jintao did not have any connection with the decision to bury the train.

Wen said that after the accident, “Hu Jintao said that rescuing people must be the first priority. After hearing this, I called the person in charge of the Ministry of Railways; he can confirm that I only said two words, ‘rescue people.'”

The Premier also said, “As to whether or not the Ministry of Railways has done what it was told to do, it needs to give the general public a definite answer.”

On July 26, a self-identified Shanghai Ministry of Railways official revealed on the Boxun website that, after the accident in Wenzhou, the Ministry of Railways definitely needed to identify the cause, but the instruction from Beijing was “to minimize the impact.” Making a hasty rescue, disregarding human life, and burying the train wreckage were all decisions from Beijing, not the Ministry of Railways. He said that the Ministry of Railways hardly has that much power or nerve.

In recent years, Chinese media often reported on Zhou Yongkang and his inspecting the high-speed rails. Zhou has also given continuous management instructions; he seemed to play the role of promoter-in-chief for China’s high-speed rail system.

On Aug. 29, 2008, Zhou Yongkang inspected the operation of the Beijing-Tianjin high-speed rail construction. He boarded the “Harmony” engine bound for Tianjin.

On Oct. 21, 2010, official media reported that while visiting Fujian, Zhou boarded the train in Quanzhou and took the bullet train to Fuzhou’s south station. The engine Zhou boarded was also the “Harmony” engine. While on the train, a member of Jiang’s faction and former Ministry of Railways Liu Zhijun gave detailed “work reports” to Zhou.

The Chinese Rail Ministry has for a long time been controlled by Jiang’s faction, until February 2011 when Liu Zhijun was dismissed from the Party Secretary position due to corruption. Potential safety issues in the Great Leap Forward-style high speed rail development initiated by Liu have been exposed recently. These have bothered Zhou who had been supportive of Liu’s efforts.

Four months ago, Zhou Yongkang rode the Beijing-Tianjin line again and repeatedly handed down instructions.

During the press conference, Wen Jiabao said, “If corruption problems are found during the investigation, we will deal with it according to the law, without mercy.”

Whether a big hole will be torn in the Jiang faction’s grip on the railway system, and whether Zhou Yongkang will take the responsibility for disregarding human life, has yet to be seen.

Chinese Authorities Criticized for Train Wreck ‘Coverup’ (NTD Television)

Read the original Chinese article.

[email protected]