Former leading Tianjin Cadre: Beijing won’t cover up Causes of Disaster, because there isn’t much to Lose

Asked by the BBC‘s Mandarin service if he believes that a former member of the politburo standing committee had been a patron for Ruihai Logistics, the company on whose premises the Tianjin explosions occurred last week, Dr. Zhang Wei (张炜), an economics lecturer at Cambridge University, said that this couldn’t be ruled out, but that the lawlessness that had led to the disaster could just as well be the fault of low-ranking local “snakes” (地头蛇). Both explanations were equally likely, he suggested.

Nextmedia, a magazine published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, had allegged in an online article on Saturday that a major shareholder of Ruihai Logistics were a nephew of former permanent politburo member Li Ruihuan (李瑞環) – this name, however, wasn’t repeated or quoted in the coverage mentioned in this post. Links to any former politburo heavyweights could be touchy information, given that citizens in Tianjin are demanding answers from the authorities as to why cargo of this accident level had been stored less than one kilometer from residential areas, and in apparently illegal quantities. Laying out a possible lawless structure that would be in line with the “local” theories, Time (online) quotes Chinese magazine Caijing as suggesting that one of the Ruihai stakeholders, Dong Mengmeng (董蒙蒙) had been the son of Dong Peijun (董培军) former public security director, an allegation also addressed by Zhang Wei, as quoted by the BBC.

But even if investigations should find traces to a former member of the politburo’s standing committee, Zhang thinks it unlikely that the current central leadership in Beijing would try to cover up the truth. A former member, rather than an incumbent, wouldn’t be of great use to the current government any more, and there would be no reason to halt the investigations.

According to the BBC, Zhang once served as secretary of Tianjin’s municipal Communist Youth League committee (共青团天津市委书记), as director of Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, as director for external economic matters at Tianjin municipal government, and in other functions. Zhang’s view of Chinese economic reform in the 1980s – and the slowdown or even reversal in reform during the 1990s – also influenced Huang Yasheng as he wrote Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics.

The explosions and the authorities’ difficulties in handling communication with the public didn’t reflect a public relations crisis (公关危机), the BBC quotes Zhang, but rather a problem rooted in the CCP’s belief in propaganda. Local officials and media in Tianjin had no powers to disclose information to the local public, but had to wait until Xinhua issued an integrated story. This seriously impaired or blocked flows of information.

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