China Orders More Gov’t Openness After Train Crash

August 4, 2011

Chinese leaders on Wednesday called for more openness in government after a high-speed train crash triggered widespread public anger at authorities over the lack of transparency in handling the accident.

Chinese state media published a circular from the Cabinet calling for more government openness, saying that departments should publicize in detail their expenditures and data on major construction projects.

“Local government departments must make more efforts to ensure transparency in government affairs in order to protect the people’s rights to know about and supervise the government,” the circular said.

The notice published on the front page of the People’s Daily did not mention the July 23 train crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou that killed at least 40 people.

But it said that information on major emergencies and topics of widespread interest should be made public “objectively” and in a timely way. This includes the results of investigations, official measures to deal with the emergencies and preventive efforts, the notice said.

Chinese authorities blamed the crash on a lightning strike that stalled a train and then the failure of a monitoring device that allowed another train to slam into it. That knocked four cars off a viaduct. More than 190 people were injured.

The accident caused much public anger and came to be seen as emblematic of the problems with China’s breakneck development over the past three decades, sometimes achieved at the expense of public safety.

Public ire has been focused on the Railways Ministry, which has long functioned as a government within a government, operating its own police force and courts and incubating a culture of privilege and corruption.

Media and online commentators have questioned the official explanation of the accident and called for an independent investigation excluding ministry experts. Victims’ families have complained that ministry officials have only discussed compensation while avoiding the issue of responsibility.

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