The U.S. corporate media has been forced to acknowledge the enormous efforts the Chinese government and people have put into this countrywide rescue effort. The night of the earthquake, the first units of 20,000 Chinese soldiers were deployed to Sichuan. In total, the government has dispatched 130,000 Chinese soldiers to the earthquake-ravaged areas.
The soldiers were joined by hundreds of busloads of civilian rescue teams, police and young volunteers. This rapid and widespread response was "a vivid demonstration of the Communist Party’s power to mobilize," according to the Washington Post. "Lines of buses and cars, many with red banners carrying political slogans, filled highways leading north from the Sichuan provincial capital," the article continued.
There hardly could have been a more difficult place to stage a large-scale rescue effort. The western Chinese province of Sichuan is covered with mountains—the Himalayas to the west, the Qinling to the north, and the mountains of Yunnan to the south. The enormous Yangtze River and many large tributaries flow through the province. A huge number of the roads through the mountains are entirely impassable, and giant boulders continue to rumble down the mountainside due to the quake’s lingering aftershocks. To make matters worse, heavy rain has slowed rescue teams.
Still, units of troops have marched for hours, fording rivers and crossing dangerous mountain ranges to reach towns that have been completely cut off from the outside world.
Scores of articles have surfaced detailing the technical and industrial shortages that have affected the rescue effort. This is undoubtedly true. On the whole, China is still an underdeveloped country, despite its false image as a new superpower able to rival the United States.
While the Chinese government has effectively mobilized food, water, tarp, and other necessities to the disaster-hit areas, the absence of cranes and heavy industrial equipment is heavily felt. Many soldiers carry simply a shovel on their backs, while some sort through the rubble with their bare hands.
The corporate media outlets and politicians who have used the earthquake disaster to score cheap shots against China should be ashamed. According to early reports, the earthquake is estimated to have affected 10 million people and potentially millions of buildings. Considering the task they are facing, the Chinese people have done quite a lot with comparatively little.
Hurricane Katrina: free-market disaster response
A brief comparison with the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina should suffice to silence China’s imperialist critics.
Despite controlling the largest budget and most powerful economy in the world, it took five days for U.S. military personnel to reach New Orleans. New Orleans residents fleeing to safer parishes were turned around at gunpoint by local law enforcement. The New Orleans police were given a shoot-to-kill order to prevent looting. No public buses were provided for evacuations in advance of the hurricane.
The whole relief effort was conducted on an essentially free-market basis: Those who had the means to find a way out did so. Years later, the people of the Gulf Coast are denied the right to return, as the real-estate developers and politicians used the tragedy to facilitate a massive gentrification scheme.
The media has made a great deal of China’s early reluctance to allow foreign rescue workers into the country. Those governments that refuse to bow to Washington’s dictates are always hit with a barrage of bad press as soon as any such tragedies beset them. These countries are always most vulnerable to foreign meddling when coping with natural calamities.
Still, China has now permitted the entry of workers from Japan, its longtime colonial overlord, and Taiwan, which was literally founded on the basis of overthrowing the Chinese revolution.
But was it not the United States that simply ignored the Cuban government’s offer to send some 1,600 medics, field hospitals and 83 tons of medical supplies to ease the humanitarian disaster on the Gulf Coast? This was no empty promise: The Cuban medical personnel had packed their bags and were waiting for the word.
Socialist Cuba shows the way
Cuba is, of course, the shining example for disaster relief. While its Caribbean neighbors—and the United States—often suffer significant losses of life during hurricane season, Cuba protects all its citizens year in and year out.
The Cubans do not have better meteorologists, and are not endowed with any special powers to cope with the weather. Everything has to do with the organization of society along socialist lines—the whole people and the state are mobilized in advance to use the country’s collective resources to respond to crises according to a plan.
Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, explained, "That notion of telling people, ‘You should evacuate, or you must evacuate. Take your S.U.V. and go out and pray.’ To us, it’s inconsiderable."
Alarcón explained that Cuba does not function according to the same "individualistic approach":
"In my country, you may find people complaining because their house has not yet been rebuilt. They assume that they have that right, and that the state, the government, has an obligation. This is a completely different philosophy. [In the United States], if the insurance company doesn’t cover flooding, you’re out. It’s normal in this kind of society."
Asked how he evaluated the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Alarcón replied, "What is to be blamed I think, is a system. It’s more than individuals."