Top Official, Company Executives Targeted After Tianjin Blast

August 18, 2015 Updated: August 20, 2015    

In the days after a massive, fiery blast rocked the northern port city of Tianjin in one of China’s deadliest industrial accidents, Yang Dongliang, the man responsible for heading disaster investigations, was seen discussing rescue efforts on site and visiting the families of the injured. He was even spotted in the photos of the Chinese premier speaking with firefighters published by state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Yang Dongliang, the former head of the State Administration of Work Safety, was present when Chinese premier Li Keqiang (C) spoke with firefighters in Tianjin, northern China on Aug. 16, 2015. (Screen shot/WeChat)
Yang Dongliang (circled in red), the former head of the State Administration of Work Safety, was present when Chinese premier Li Keqiang (C) spoke with firefighters in the Tianjin on Aug. 16, 2015. (Screen shot/WeChat)

On Aug. 18, less than 24 hours after Yang had attended a State Council (China’s equivalent of a parliamentary cabinet) meeting about the rescue efforts in Tianjin, the Chinese regime announced that it was investigating the chief of its work-safety agency. That same day, state media also reported that 10 senior executives of the chemical company involved in the explosions are being held by the authorities.

The news came after a claim by the regime that open investigations will be conducted into the Tianjin chemical explosion, which official reports say killed 114 and injured over 700 on Aug. 12. At least 57 people are still missing, according to authorities. Subsequent explosions on August 15 night left a gaping crater in the ground furthering fears of the spread of toxic contamination in the surrounding residential area.

Smoke rises at the site of an explosion in Tianjin on Aug. 14, 2015. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises at the site of an explosion in Tianjin on Aug. 14, 2015. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Yang’s several very public appearances and attendance at a top level meeting mere hours before his removal raises questions about the timing of his sacking and its intended impact.

The Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption agency announced on its website on Aug. 18 that Yang Dongliang, the head of the State Administration of Work Safety, has been investigated for “serious violations of discipline and the law,” Party parlance for corruption.

As if fearing allegations that Yang, 61, was purged as a scapegoat for the explosions, several state-linked news outlets released reports meant to prove the contrary.

Many people, including senior Party cadres, had exposed Yang’s malfeasance when he was vice mayor of Tianjin from 2009 to 2012, reported the pro-Beijing, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Phoenix Television, citing a source inside the Tianjin branch of the anti-corruption agency. The recent explosions served as a good “opportunity” to take him out after over six months of “secret investigations,” Phoenix Television claims.

In fact, the purging of Yang had no direct connection to the Tianjin disaster, according to Chinese business magazine Caixin, citing an “insider,” and Chinese Internet giant Tencent, citing a “source close to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection,” the Party’s anti-corruption watchdog.

Yet Yang’s several very public appearances and attendance at a top level meeting mere hours before his removal raises questions about the timing of his sacking and its intended impact.

Just days earlier, the Global Times, a state-run, nationalist mouthpiece, ran an article that attempted to deflect blame for the Tianjin blast and the incompetent response to it away from the central government and on to local cadres who are “not good at facing the public voice.” Yang’s stint in the Tianjin provincial government certainly qualifies him as one of those targeted.

Meanwhile, Chinese financial magazine Caijing reported that 10 executives from Rui Hai International Logistics, the company that owns the warehouses involved in the chemical blast, have been detained by the police. Yu Xuewei, Rui Hai’s chairman, and vice chairman Dong Shexuan were detained on Aug. 13, about six hours after the blast. Also held are Rui Hai’s president Li Liang; vice president Cao Haijun, chief financial officer Song Qi, and general manager Zhi Feng.

According to Caijing, six of the executives are being held at Tianjin No. 1 detention center while four are in a hospital.