China Orders Safety Checks After Bullet Train Crash

Jul 26, 2011
Originally published on July 26, 2011 1:03 pm
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Hi, Louisa.

LOUISA LIM: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what's the latest on this crash and the follow up to it?

LIM: At first, the government blamed a lightning strike, which it said had knocked out power to one train. But still, a lot of people are asking questions about why the automatic computer warning systems didn't seem to have worked. And the government really needs to show that the train system is safe.

INSKEEP: Well, I want to understand that, because - not to minimize this accident, but this is a very large country that has an awful lot of safety problems and large accidents. Why has this one touched off such criticism?

LIM: And then this accident happened, and it really highlighted what many people feel has gone wrong with China's political culture: the rampant corruption, the love of these kind of prestige projects. And the feeling is the opening of the rail line was pushed forward perhaps before safety checks had taken place.

INSKEEP: Has the frustration grown so much that people are beginning to question this narrative that many people in the world seem to accept, that China is on its way to world dominance?

LIM: But people are just absolutely outraged by this. on China's Twitter platform, people are saying it was not just the train that was buried that day, but the truth, too.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Well, how publicly can people criticize the government there on an issue like this?

LIM: Well, in this case, the Internet has played a huge, huge role in the debate. I mean, the government's really tried to muzzle the state-run press to tell its own story, but that's really been eroded by the effect of the Internet. And, you know, they're posting angry videos of press conferences with reporters even shouting at government officials. So the Internet has been very, very effective in this case at questioning the government's version of what really happened.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about one consequence of this. The Chinese were hoping to export their high-speed train technology overseas. What happens to that market when there's a well-publicized crash like this?

LIM: And in Thailand and Hong Kong, there had been plans for Chinese companies to build rail lines. And there are already questions being asked in the media there about whether these plans should, in fact, go ahead. So, for the government, there are economic consequences, as well as political ones.

INSKEEP: Louisa, thanks very much.

LIM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Louisa Lim, from Beijing. You hear her on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.