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Asia

China's boom has a less than human face

The World Bank has boosted its growth forecast for China in 2010 to 10 percent. But as China booms, there is concern human life is being left on the wayside by power-hungry and corrupt officials.

Safety regulations at China's mines are often ignored

Safety regulations at China's mines are often ignored

As the World Expo in Shanghai wound down, there was one exhibit at the Chile pavilion that continued to attract the masses. The Phoenix 2 capsule, which helped rescue 33 Chilean miners last month, triggered a debate about mine safety in China.

One visitor said that the rescue operation in Chile showed a respect for human life that China could learn from. Just days after the Chilean miners were rescued, some 30 of their Chinese colleagues in a mine in Henan province died in an explosion.

"The mine was unsafe but they don’t care about worker safety. All they care about is production," the mother of one of the dead miners said angrily.

Safety laws often ignored

Federal safety laws and directives from Beijing are often ignored. Former functionaries themselves say that China’s economic boom is partly based on blood.

"All they care about is developing the economy," says Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist at the People’s University in Beijing. "They just look at GDP in order to gauge development. That’s how they are judged and that’s what their promotions are based upon."

In its rhetoric, the central government in Beijing preaches about sustainable growth, about the environment and development without waste of resources. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao often talks about people-oriented policies. "The government acquired its power from the people, all power goes back to the people and we have to do everything for the people," he recently said.

Many Chinese are getting rich but some say the poor are being sacrificed

Many Chinese are getting rich but some say the poor are being sacrificed

However, for many these words are like a slap in the face. Only the ruling Communist Party is to blame for the fact that there are no controls over those in power, that there is no transparency, no checks and balances.

Officials and businessmen in cahoots

Environmental activist Wu Lihong, who has long campaigned against the pollution of Lake Taihu, says there is a tangled web of corruption and nepotism, with officials and factory owners working hand-in-hand.

"They are in cahoots and they have the same interests. That's why the central government never finds out the truth and does not know about local issues. The central government has no power – that’s one of our system's problems."

Migrant workers are flocking to the cities to find work but they are often subject to abuse

Migrant workers are flocking to the cities to find work but they are often subject to abuse

There is also corruption at the highest level. At the beginning of the year, a former Supreme Court judge was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment for taking bribes and corruption charges. Last month, the former head of China’s nuclear agency was expelled from the party.

"Power creates corruption," says Zhou Xiaozheng. "And absolute power creates absolute corruption. We humans are not saints. Anyone who is in power for a long time becomes corrupt. That’s why we have to monitor those in power better."

But, he adds, this is what is currently not possible in China. The media have restricted powers of control. Censorship in China is all-pervasive in China. Even though the media are allowed to report on accidents such as the one in Henan, the deeper causes usually remain unexamined.

Author: Ruth Kirchner (act)
Editor: Arun Chowdhury