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Chile and China: Rescuing the miners

The news about the successful rescue of 33 miners by the Chilean government on October 14 was followed by a coal mine accident in Pinyu county, Henan province in China, on October 16. The China disaster, caused by a gas blast and explosive coal dust, resulted in the death of 37 miners. In comparing the rescue operations in the two developing countries, many netizens criticized the lack of humanistic concern in the case of China. As the country moves ahead in its development, many feel that while the economy is getting strong, people's lives remain worthless.

Chile vs China in mine rescue

Whenever mining accidents happen in China, local governments try to cover up the situation rather than seek support from the nearby provinces and the central government. Beifangkeke questions Chinese officials’ attitudes towards human lives:

这次智利矿难的救援也可以说成是一次国际救援行动。据报道,这次矿难发生后,负责营救行动的智利国家铜业公司就邀请了跨国矿业公司的专家,以及美国宇航局的专家来共同向营救人员提供建议。这不仅是一种国际智慧支援,它更增强了那些营救者和受困者的自信。有评论就指,这一现象反映出在智利人的眼中,矿工的生命比国家的“脸面”更重要。而在我们过往发生的矿难中,人们更多看到的是矿主瞒报、谎报,监管方的监管缺位、参股矿企,很多出事矿属非法开采、安全措施不到位……就在最新发生的河南这起矿难中,在相关报道当中,也有“矿难前22小时发现瓦斯超标,工作人员表示,通报后未收到相应处理意见”、“瓦斯检测员权限上缴”、“新风机尚未建好即开采”等问题被曝光。而无论怎样,我们都已经看到,智利和中国同为发展中国家,在对待矿工生命的态度上,可谓对比鲜明吧。

The mine rescue in Chile can be regarded as an international operation. It’s been reported that the Chilean National Copper Corporation, responsible for the rescue operation, had invited experts from transnational mining companies, as well as NASA experts, to give suggestions to the rescuers. This kind of international back-up had given confidence to the rescuers and the trapped miners. Some writers, therefore, asserted that Chileans treasure the lives of the miners more than the “face” of the country. The usual pattern in the Chinese mining scenario is that mine owners conceal the situation, regulators fail to monitor the safety measures and mining corporations are engaged in illegal mining. For example, in the latest coal mine accident in Henan, an alert on the excessive level of gas had been issued 22 hours before the accident, but no measures were taken to deal with the situation. After the accident, the media exposed the fact that the ventilator system had not been properly installed. At any rate, we have already seen the stark contrast between the two developing countries, Chile and China, in their attitudes towards miners’ lives.

Blogger 70 yard declares that the Chilean government turned the tragedy into comedy, while in the case of China, the mining industry remains a living hell:

这哪是让人悲伤的矿难呀,完全是一幕喜剧电影呀。据说,智利被困矿工全部获救后,引来了国人的极度羡慕,特别是国内矿工,感叹同样是辛苦的矿工工作,却有如此天壤之别。国内矿工,几乎每天都有可能遇到生命危险的矿难事故发生。而国内煤矿事故的频繁,让国人麻木,再大的矿难也很难吸引人的眼球。尽管中国不缺钱,更不缺人,矿难一旦发生,成功救援地可能性极小极小。和智利矿难相比,被困69天矿工还能精神奇佳的走了出来,不想去医院也被“强迫”去医院的幸福相比,中国矿工在遇到矿难后,获救的希望都很渺茫,等待他们的家属的,是无尽的悲伤。

The mine rescue in Chile was not sad at all! It was totally a comic movie. It’s said that Chinese people, especially our miners, are so envious of the successful rescue in Chile. Our miners risk the danger of being killed in the mine almost every day, while the high frequency of mining accidents has left our people indifferent. No matter how big the disaster is, it simply cannot attract people's attention. Although China doesn’t lack money or rescuers, once a mining accident hits, hope is slim that coal miners will get out alive. In contrast with the mining accident in Chile, where the trapped coal miners miraculously walked out of the mine and were “forced” to do body screening in hospital, what awaits our trapped miners is only dim hope, and what awaits their relatives is endless sorrow.

Privatization of coal mines and its unbearable consequence

Cai Chongguo, who has been blogging about China’s coal mine accidents for 10 years, explains the nightmare of mining accidents in China by revisiting the history of the national coal mine reform in the 1990s, when the profit-driven coal mine owners began to emerge:

即上世纪90年代末,政府不愿,可能也无能预计两、三年后的经济增长、能源价格上涨的未来,为了“甩包袱”,鼓励并操作全国的煤炭行业空前规模的私有化,并放开了煤矿的开采权。当时,全国,特别是山西内蒙河南等产煤大省,毫无安全保障的私人小煤窑煤矿如雨后春笋般地冒出。同时,大批国有煤矿倒闭、破产,然后以象征性价格,像批发罗卜土豆般地卖给私人。没卖的,则将其矿井和开采面承包给私人包工头,“国有”徒具其名。很多国有煤矿现在仍然如此。

Back in the 1990s, the government didn’t anticipate the country’s rapid economic growth, nor rising energy prices. In order to minimize its burdens, the government encouraged the privatization of national coal mines and liberalized mining rights. Consequently, small and poorly equipped private coal mines sprouted up in coal mine provinces like Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Henan. Meanwhile, big state-owned coal mines went bankrupt and were sold to private owners. Those that remained unsold were subcontracted to private foremen.

Cai points out that the local governments have become protectors of private coal mine owners:

十分重要的是,是国家对矿藏开发的垄断和控制的放弃,国有煤矿盲目、无任何监督和透明度的私有化,根本改变了矿山所在地的利益关系,改变了地方政府的财政收入构成和其行为方式。它不仅对掌握权力者及其亲属朋友产生极大的诱惑和空前未有的机会及极小的以权寻租的风险,使腐败上了一个大台阶,而且使地方财政依赖煤矿。因此,很多地方政府实际上成了煤老板的秘书处,保护矿主,隐瞒矿难,不遗余力。

Because government gave up its monopoly and control over coal mine exploitation, the privatization of state-owned coal mines is unregulated and non-transparent. This has fundamentally changed the power relations in local jurisdictions, as well as local governments’ fiscal income structure, and hence their mode of behavior. Privatization has been very attractive to power owners, and given them and their families unprecedented opportunity, but it has also nurtured corruption. In fact, many local governments have become the secretariats of coal mine bosses, and they conceal coal mine accidents to protect the mine bosses.

Death toll of Chinese miners more than U.S soldiers in Iraq

Indeed, China has been notorious for the death toll in its mining accidents. Back in 2009, blogger Yuchang compared the death toll of US soldiers in the Iraq war with those of miners in China, and discovered that the latter outnumbered the deaths of U.S. soldiers by seven times!

2006年12目30日,一名驻伊美军士兵30日在巴格达的街头炸弹爆炸中丧生,从而使伊战以来美军死亡人数突破3000大关。截止举国媒体和反美愤青欢腾的这一天,伊战期间中国煤矿矿难死亡人数约21716人(注:官方公布的数据是,2003年6683人、2004年6027人、2005年5930人、 2006年4746人,将2003年减四分之一后累加得出21716人)。

On December 30, 2006, an American soldier was killed in a bombing accident in Baghdad, bringing the death toll to 3,000. On such a day when anti-American media and angry youths were overjoyed by the news, the death toll of Chinese miners in the period of the Iraq war was about 21,716. (Note: according the official data, the death tolls were: 2003: 6,683, 2004: 6,027, 2005: 5,930, 2006: 4,746. When I add together the numbers for four years and deduct one fourth of the 2003 figure [the war began in April], the sum is about 21,716).

上月月初,中国媒体广泛报道:截至2007年10月30日,驻伊美军死亡3840人。同日,国家安全生产监督局网站公布,今年1至10月,全国煤矿事故 1920起,死亡3069人。看到这二则新闻,心一沉,不妙!

Early last month, Chinese media reports said that by October 30, 2007, the death toll of US soldiers in Iraq had reached 3,840. On the same day, the State Administration of Work Safety announced that between January to October of that year, there had been 1,920 mine accidents in China, causing the deaths of 3,069 people. I was disheartened to read the story.
  • http://circleofignorance.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/has-chile-joined-the-first-world/ Karen E. Lund

    “Some writers, therefore, asserted that Chileans treasure the lives of the miners more than the “face” of the country.”

    The attitude toward human life also struck me during the mine rescue. I found this observation interesting, as I can’t see how human lives and a nation’s face can be separated.

    In the Western sense of the word, the “face” of a nation is its people, both as a whole and as individuals. In the Eastern sense, how can a nation retain its “face” if it cannot protect the lives of its citizens? (Yes, I will grant that mining is risky, as are many other occupations; but all reasonable care should be taken to prevent disasters and to rescue those who are endangered by them.)

    I’ll disagree slightly with the writer who said that privatization increases danger. It is the “unregulated and non-transparent” nature of privatization in China (and elsewhere) and failure to enforce safety regulations where they do exist that unnecessarily increases danger to human life. A well-regulated private industry (and one concerned about its reputation) should be capable of providing adequate protection against risk.

    Lastly, I had not been aware of the comparison between Chinese coal miners and US military deaths in Iraq. That is staggering!

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