Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sorry About That...

From the AP:
HARBIN, China - Visiting Premier Wen Jiabao ordered local leaders to clean up toxic benzene by Sunday night from the river that provides water for this northeast city, where residents spent a fourth day Saturday without supplies in freezing weather.

The foreign minister, meanwhile, delivered an unusual public apology to Moscow for possible damage from the spill on the Songhua River, which is flowing toward a city in the Russian Far East.

Beijing's show of care and contrition was almost unprecedented and represented an effort to restore its damaged standing with both China's public and Moscow, a key diplomatic partner...

...Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's apology to Russian Ambassador Sergei Razov was reported on the state television evening news, which is seen by hundreds of millions of Chinese.

"Li Zhaoxing expressed his sincere apology on behalf of the Chinese government for the possible harm that this major environmental pollution incident could bring to the Russian people downstream," the report said.

It was an extraordinary step for the newscast, which usually carries only positive reports about China's foreign relations...
Here's one form of apology I wish corporate wrongdoers in the US would adopt:
The plant was run by a subsidiary of China's biggest oil company, state-owned China National Petroleum Corp., which issued an apology this week and sent executives to help dig wells in Harbin.
Meanwhile, the UK Guardian reports on how the crisis has impacted Harbin's poorest residents:
For the first time in her life Mrs Li is thinking of splashing out on a bottle of water. It may only cost 7p, but for the migrant mother living in one of the city of Harbin's poorest neighbourhoods, anything but tap water has, until now, been an unthinkable extravagance.

Decision time is looming. Since China's biggest recent pollution scare prompted the authorities to cut off water supplies two days ago, the 25-year-old has conserved every drop. She no longer washes the family's hair and clothes. She eats only bread, buns and other food that does not require water for cooking. And, though it worries her immensely, she has stopped boiling her baby's bottle to keep it sterile.

But her family's supplies are already running out. Unlike most of the rest of the city's 3.5 million residents, she had no bath or barrels to fill when the government warned everyone to prepare for a dry patch. Instead, the family of three drink and wash from three small buckets that are fast emptying.

"We can probably manage for a day or two more, but if it goes on much longer I'll be very worried," she said. "I never imagined this would happen when I came to live in the city."...

...Despite freezing temperatures, people queue on the streets with kettles and flasks when the emergency water tanker, a converted street cleaning truck, pulls in once a day with fresh supplies. For some there is even an air of festivity. "It's a bit like the war," says one veteran. "Everyone pulling together and the [communist] party providing for us."

But in the poorer parts of town there is resentment that the burden and the risk are not being equally shared. "It is all right for the rich and the communist cadres," said Zhu Yuan Liang, a scrap collector. "But most people are poor and cannot afford to waste money on bottled water."
The Guardian article also contains an interesting speculation::
The exposure of the cover-up may have been a ploy by central government to make companies and local authorities more responsible for the environment. According to Chinese journalists the order to go public came directly from the state council - led by prime minister Wen Jiabao. A day later Mr Wen held a meeting with ministers in which he emphasised the environmental woes facing China.

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