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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Death In A Coal Pit

83 Dead in 20 days

China Mining Tragedy I reported here back on April 28 that the Chinese government had released a report on workplace accidents and fatalities for the first trimester in which they reported that

"Coal related deaths dropped 25 per cent during January-April period with 1,267 deaths reported in 854 registered cases. The total output of coal was up 19 per cent up over the same period the previous year."

It was not that the government were boasting about this decline but I stated at the time that it was more a case of good luck rather than good management and that with the ridiculous demands placed on the coal mining industry by China's economy it was only a matter of time before deaths started to skyrocket.

I link here to Steve Frost's excellent Asian Labour News weblog where he has been following and recording some recent tragic events in China's mining industry far more closely than I have been able to.

Chinese Miners (AP)In the last 20 days Stephen reports that, as a result of several coal mining accidents, 83 miners have died with several still remaining unaccounted for.

83 dead in 20 days.

The horrible thing though is that whilst these figures seem alarming, and they are, they are light in comparison to the 20 or so fatalities on average per day officially recorded for last year. Some independent analysts have even put the unofficial figure as high as 30 per day.

That is right! Every single day of the year on average between 20 and 30 human beings going about their daily working life hoping to provide for their wives and children and in manty cases extended families, just like you and I, leave for work in the morning and do not come home.

Death Incorporated

When devising a photo composite as a lead in to stories on China mining accidents I stuttered over the caption "Death Incorporated" because it seemed to dramatise and even trivialise a tragic situation, but, each time I embed that photo for each new tragedy I feel more and more that it truly reflects exactly what is going on in China's mining industry.

Coal mining is dirty and yes it is dangerous but in most large coal producing countries the worst by-product of coal mining is pollution although not unheard of deaths are relatively and mercifully rare. Not so China, China's mining industry output is measured in tonnes and deaths and, what is worse, death appears an acceptable "cost of doing business".

After each and every sizeable tragedy the Government announces investigations and reforms just as Stephen Frost reports in the linked article they have done now.

But it is all window dressing for after national and international scrutiny and disapprobation has died down it is back to business as usual with a relieved sigh. Because at the rate the government has the "steam train" that is the Chinese economy going they just can not afford to cut back on coal production which fuels 70 percent of China's energy requirements.And these energy requirements are growing at a rate of approximately 19 percent per annum.

Last year Premier Wen Jiabao announced after some other significant mining tragedies massive reforms in the industry. Illegal mines were to be tracked down and closed, mines lacking in safety were to be closed or were at least to greatly reduce their production until safety problems were rectified.

So extensive however is the safety issue in China's mining industry that the crackdowns effected so many mines, including even State Owned enterprises (SOE's), that the economy started immediately to feel the effects. As a result word quietly went out to officials from the Politburo to get everything back to previous output levels as quickly as possible before the measures could be fully implemented. They even called for greater output.

So the illegal mines went back to work, the unsafe mines kept sending the lambs to slaughter and the officials corrupt and elsewhere looked the other way and this miracle economy maintained steam.

International Community Must Get Involved

7-10000 deaths per yearThe international community has to bring pressure to bear on the Chinese government to begin a process of real reform to the Chinese mining industry. But criticism alone will not work. The international community needs to help supply solutions because I think it is beyond China's ability to do it on her own. They have got themselves on a treadmill that they can not get off.

A first step would be for those fools at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the European Union (EU)to get off China's back about meeting what is, in light of this ongoing tragedy, unrealistic and ultimately inhumane coke export commitments.

If I torture and kill you am I any more of a human rights violator than a government that knowingly sends 10,000 men to their deaths each year? Or for that matter an international community that prefers to look the other way?
Link Read Rating:
Asian Labour News: China: 83 dead or missing in coal mine accidents in Shanxi over 20 days prods government into action - or not... See also Xinhua Article 22/5/04 "Coke enterprises appeal to gov't to keep export policy"