In China, the government is facing anger and criticism from the netizens who accuse the authorities of insufficient response to the flooding that brought death and devastation to the areas surrounding the capital, Beijing.
From July 29 to August 2, Tropical Storm Doksuri brought the heaviest rainfall to the Chinese capital in 140 years. The Beijing municipal government reported that by August 9, at least 33 people were killed, 18 are still missing.
But Hu Xijin, a political commentator and former editor-in-chief of China’s state-run newspaper Global Times, defended the authorities on Weibo, one of China’s biggest social media platforms:
"Now, criticism over the government’s lack of precautions and lack of rescue efforts might not be based on facts. For the most part, people are just venting.”
That is false.
Chinese netizens’ criticism is focused on the authorities’ decision to divert 1.8 billion cubic meters of floodwater to Hebei province to save Beijing and Tianjin, two important Chinese municipalities.
Tropical Storm Doksuri landed in China’s Fujian province on July 28. It then traveled north, bringing Beijing 60% of its average annual rainfall in just 83 hours.
In Mentougou, a district in western Beijing, the extreme rainfall and flooding has inundated 310,000 residents and damaged nearly 35,000 houses.
The Paper, a state-owned Chinese digital newspaper, reported on August 1 that authorities began draining Beijing by opening seven flood storage zones in low-lying areas. China’s flood prevention system consists largely of flood retention basins in low-lying areas and lakes.
Beijing’s plan was to use rivers to discharge floodwater and reservoirs to store excess water, but that failed due to the amount of rainfall. The Hebei Emergency Management Department then activated seven flood retention basins, telling 850,000 people in the province, which borders the capital on three sides, to evacuate as they opened flood gates and spillways to help drain water in Beijing.
Many Hebei residents took to social media to complain about not having been given a heads-up before the authorities made their decision.
Moreover, Ni Yuefeng, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary of Hebei, said the province would “resolutely build a ‘moat’ for the capital.” His speech, which triggered an angry response on social media, has since been censored on Weibo and WeChat, two of China’s most popular social media platforms.
Tianjin’s Jinghai district, which borders Hebei province and is home to one of the flood retention basins, asked 30,000 residents in 23 villages to evacuate.
In a letter to all district residents on August 2, a district official said “we are sacrificing ourselves to save our country, we are saving Beijing and Tianjin. History will remember us.”
The decision was taken earlier by the National Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, and the water gate was opened at 2 a.m. on August 1, before the government sent out the letter.
According to The Paper, China’s Ministry of Water Resources said on August 1 that the country will compensate the residents in the flood retention areas. “They are sacrificing a small family for the big one,” it said.
Hebei province’s Zhuozhou was the city hardest hit by the flooding, with hundreds of thousands of homes completely destroyed and power still not restored. Reporting from state media shows that help arrived promptly.
Still, angry residents are asking why the local government didn’t do more to help them.
"In other places you see leaders rushing to the front line and coordinating rescue efforts, but in Zhuozhou they disappeared," a resident told Reuters as he was stranded in his apartment for three days without electricity.
One netizen responded mockingly to Hu Xijin’s Weibo post, writing: “So we have zero death, zero missing in Zhuozhou.”
Unlike his predecessors, who would usually visit disaster-stricken areas, Chinese President Xi Jinping has not made a public appearance.
However, on August 6, the central government posted an article from the state-run Xinhua News Agency headlined: “Unite as One— Hebei’s Disaster Relief With Comrade Xi Jinping as the Core.”
“The safety of people’s lives and property is of utmost importance to President Xi Jinping,” the article stated, adding that he had made important instructions regarding rescue efforts in order to minimize casualties and “make sure people can feel that they can rely on the party.”
The Chinese government announced on August 10 that it had allocated 1.5 billion RMB ($209 million) “to repair damaged water conservancy facilities.”