Published on WSWS, by John Chan, 17 April 2010.
In a sign of Beijing’s anxiety over potential unrest following Wednesday morning’s earthquake in Qinghai province, President Hu Jintao cut short his attendance at a key economic summit in Brazil to return to China. Premier Wen Jiabao cancelled visits to three South East Asian countries and toured the quake-hit Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture yesterday, professing concern for the survivors … //
… The shoddily-built mud and wood homes in the towns of Yushu were part of the government’s resettlement policy, implemented since 2000, to force thousands of Tibetan nomads to live in urban areas, supposedly to “civilise” and “modernise” them. In fact, the program was part of the regime’s “Go West” campaign to open up vast untapped natural resources and cheap labour in western China.
Widespread discontent with the social inequality and dislocation produced by the penetration of capitalist relations into these regions was the main factor behind the eruption of protests in 2008 across Tibet, including the neighbouring Yushu prefecture, that were brutally put down by armed police.
The Beijing regime is particularly sensitive to the death toll among school students. On Wednesday evening, the Yushu education authority announced 56 deaths but admitted that the actual number could be much higher. Hundreds of parents and teachers continued to dig with their bare hands to search for missing children. At a press conference on Thursday, local officials avoided questions about whether the student casualties were connected to failures to enforce building safety standards.
Students comprise 18.8 percent of the population—much higher than the national average of 8 percent. At No 3 Primary School, where 3,000 children studied, 200 students remain buried, after teachers battled to pull out 95 students, 34 of whom were subsequently confirmed dead. Deputy principal Wen Ming explained: “Many children were seriously injured; even those reading outside the classrooms were covered by falling walls.” No medical treatment was available for injured students. Those not picked up by their parents had to stay overnight in the playground without shelter in temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius.
The schools were poorly built due to insufficient funding from Beijing. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in which shoddy school buildings contributed to the death of more than 5,300 students, the regime promised to inspect and reinforce schools in quake-prone regions. In Qinghai, the authorities had pledged to make schools the “safest and most worry-free place for parents” within three years. However, progress to reinforce 4,009 school buildings and rebuild another 9,780 has been slow. According to the Qinghai Daily, because of limited funds, the provincial government would be unable to complete the target of finishing 60 percent of the work by the end of this year.
The problem is not lack of resources. China is currently the world’s largest construction site. In response to the global economic crisis, the government unveiled a massive stimulus package of $US586 billion for infrastructure projects, and directed trillions of dollars of state bank credit into the construction industry, developers and banks, creating a huge property bubble in major cities. Real estate barons now constitute the largest group among China’s 130 dollar billionaires, but to control the resultant public debt and budget deficit Beijing is restraining spending on education and other social services. (full text).