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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:


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:


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:


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:


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.
  • 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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