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Chile Mine Rescue Shocks Chinese Public

By Cao Changqing 曹長青

The contrast between the recent Chilean mine rescue and the handling of mine accidents in China is enormous, and has provided the Chinese people with a revealing example of the differences between the two systems of government.

After the Chile mine collapse, when nobody knew whether there were any survivors, the Chilean government spared no efforts to try to reach the trapped miners. In China, no mining accident has ever been treated with such attention and patience; Chinese authorities will pronounce everyone dead if there are no signs of life shortly after an accident.

“Chilean miners were lifted from the shaft, while Chinese miners are sent to hell,” one netizen commented.

Safety Standards

Safety measures in the two countries are of no comparison either. The Chilean miners survived 17 days on their own largely because of a refuge in the mine where oxygen, food, water, and other emergency supplies were available.

Few Chinese miners have ever seen or heard of such an emergency refuge. Once a mine collapses, miners have little chance of surviving long.

In addition, the large number of smaller, privately owned mines are generally even further below safety standards, which is why China’s mining death toll has been among the highest in the world.

In 2009, China’s official data indicated a death toll of 2,631 from mining accidents (compared to 34 in the U.S.). The peak occurred in 2002 with 6,995 deaths. Experts say the actual numbers are much higher than official data.

Value of Human Life

Upon receiving news of the accident, Chilean president Sebastian Piñera immediately returned from his visit to Colombia and camped outside the mine for weeks. He and his wife were among the first to embrace the rescued miners.

Chinese communist leader Hu Jintao didn’t even show up at Wenchuan after the 2008 earthquake that killed over 90,000. A high-level official who did show up at the site was caught on camera with beaming smiles.

Chinese netizens said they envy Chileans whose lives are deemed so valuable. One blogger said: “Their miners are treated like real humans, and ours are treated like apes. [Chinese miners’] deaths do not even attract much attention.”

Media

When a mining or other accident happens, the first thing Chinese authorities usually do is to seal off the site and block media from reporting.

In sharp contrast, the Chileans broadcast the entire rescue operation, and even used fiber-optic video to let the whole world see what happened to the miners who were trapped 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) underground.

Another Chinese blogger said: “It’s such a sharp contrast to China. They dare to broadcast it live to the whole world, whereas our reporters are not even allowed to get near [the scene].”

International Collaboration

The Chilean mine rescue effort was successful largely due to international collaboration of experts, scientists, and engineers. In disasters in China, however, authorities try to exploit the media attention for political notoriety, putting human life last.

In the Sichuan earthquake, for example, authorities rejected all help offered by rescue teams from other countries during the most critical first 72 hours. The same thing happened in 1976 after the Tangshan earthquake that killed at least 240,000.

Quality of Care

The Chilean mine rescue effort was well planned, with attention to detail. A team from the U.S. space agency NASA was onsite to offer help. A nutritionist from the team helped put together special food to keep the miners healthy. High-tech, anti-microbial, copper impregnated socks were also lowered to the miners to prevent them from getting infections. Every rescued miner emerged wearing special protective glasses valued at US$450.

Thanks to the Chilean government’s nutritional and medical care, the rescued miners looked healthy after 69 days underground.

One Chinese blogger commented: “They look like they just came back from a vacation trip—healthy, energetic and neat. Our miners who were fortunate to come out alive [after being underground for days] looked like they came up from hell.”

Responsibility and Compensation

When freed, the Chilean miners’ foreman, who was the last to come up, said to President Piñera that such a thing must never happen again. In a democracy, he was able to place the responsibility for the accident on those in charge, including the president of the country.

In China, rescued miners have to express their gratitude to Party leaders and the government before they do anything else.

The rescued Chilean miners also received huge compensation from the government and private parties.

In China, compensation for a dead miner is often just a few thousand dollars. After a 2003 oil well blowout in Chongqing City, the 190 households left behind by 191 victims only received a total of 30 million yuan (US$4.5 million), or an average of US$23,684 for each life lost.

Chinese netizens exclaimed, “What a difference! What a shock!”

Constitutional Objectives

What creates that difference, then? The answer can be found in the two countries’ constitutions.

The opening clause of the Chilean constitution says: “The family is the fundamental unit of society. The State recognizes and protects intermediary groups through which society organizes, and ensures adequate autonomy to meet their specific purposes.”

By contrast, the Chinese constitution says: “The Nation’s fundamental task is … [to maintain] the leadership of the communist Party, and to adhere to Marxism, Maoism, Deng Xiaoping theory, and the ‘three represents’ [theories of former Party head Jiang Zemin].”

In essence, the Chinese government gives priority to the absolute power of the communist Party, whereas in Chile, people come first.

Lucky Day

When the 33 miners were rescued, President Piñera excitedly exclaimed that the miners’ rescue was on a lucky day, Oct. 13, as 10-10-13 adds up to 33, a lucky number in Chile. In a humble manner, he gave credit to providence.

But I believe it’s the democratic system of Chile that protects human lives, freedom and dignity.

Cao Changqing, a well-known political commentator, is originally from mainland China and currently resides in the U.S.

The Epoch Times, Oct 19, 2010

2010-10-27

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