28 Chinese Officials Cited for Quake Laxity

China continues recovery efforts after a devastating 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit central China on May 12, 2008, and rendered millions of people homeless.
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BEIJING, June 11 -- The Chinese Communist Party has disciplined 28 officials and promoted 50 as a result of their performances during rescue operations after the devastating May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province, the party said Tuesday.

The personnel changes, including the firing of 15 officials for "doing nothing" during the catastrophe, represented the first public accounting of government actions after a prominent warning by a senior party leader that officials' careers would depend on how well they responded to the crisis. In a sign the party intended the decisions to serve as examples, they were reported prominently in the party's Sichuan Daily newspaper and relayed nationwide by the official New China News Agency.

The party has defined the disaster as a major test of its leadership, from local party secretaries tending to victims on the front lines to the highest-ranking party mandarins directing recovery from Beijing. President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other members of the party's elite Politburo Standing Committee have made repeated and widely reported visits to the quake zone. Their response has generated widespread praise among Chinese.

"The performance of officials in rescue and rebuilding operations will be an important basis for deciding on their rewards, punishments and future roles," said a directive from the party's national Organization Department. "Those who perform in an outstanding way will be promoted boldly. Officials who do not work well will be shifted to other positions."

According to official counts, the Sichuan temblor killed more than 69,000 people and left 17,000 missing. About 12 million were left homeless, and a large number of towns and villages were so badly destroyed they will have to be rebuilt from scratch.

Officials said Tuesday that Beichuan, one of the hardest-hit towns and the seat of Beichuan county, would be rebuilt about 20 miles to the southwest, in an area known as Bandengqiao. Urban planners described the new site as safer because it is farther from earthquake-prone fault lines and lies on flatter ground, making it less exposed to landslides, according to the New China News Agency.

Many Beichuan residents have taken refuge in tents in nearby Mianyang city, unable even to return to view the ruins of their town because of the danger of flooding from waters of the Jian River, backed up behind a giant landslide at nearby Tianjiashan. The backed-up water increased its flow down an escape sluice Tuesday after soldiers blasted away obstacles, causing the water level behind the landslide to drop for the first time and decreasing the danger of a catastrophic flood.

The rushing water covered lower-lying areas of Beichuan for a time Tuesday afternoon and caused the river to overflow its banks downstream as far as Mianyang. But the crest passed on by nightfall, and officials declared the wall of rocks and mud at Tianjiashan was no longer in danger of bursting.

The Central Committee, in a communique after a reconstruction meeting in Beijing last week, hailed the party's performance in responding to the emergency so far, saying it had been the backbone of a swift official relief operation and the inspiration for an outpouring of aid from businesses and volunteers.

But the government warned that those efforts were only the beginning. Ministries have been ordered to cut budgets to provide funds for rebuilding, estimated at more than $10 billion, and China's provinces and cities have been assigned to "adopt" hard-hit communities and supply them with immediate needs, such as tents and medicine, and later with reconstruction assistance, in the form of money and equipment.

The highest-ranking official to be fired, according to reports posted on Chinese Web sites and confirmed Tuesday by the provincial Organization Department, was Xiao Rong, deputy director of Dujiangyan's Civil Affairs Bureau. Xiao reported a vastly inflated casualty estimate May 16, the reports said, causing national officials to rush to the scene needlessly.

Another cited in the reports was Liu Dinghuang, party secretary of nearby Tuanjie village, who was dismissed because he opened his grocery store to make money instead of trying to help earthquake victims, they said.

Among those promoted, the reports cited Jiang Rong, party secretary of Victory village near Qingchuan, who quickly organized the village party cell to direct rescue operations, limiting the number of those killed in her community to eight and those injured to 20.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company