Besides Tibet, two other important stories to watch while gauging Beijing’s newly discovered bent for openness and transparency are closely tied to the disaster in Sichuan. The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has launched a probe into the disproportionately large number of schoolchildren who were killed when their schools collapsed on them while other nearby buildings withstood the shock of the quake. If shoddy construction was involved, officials have vowed to punish those responsible.
Angry, grieving parents who have lost children are screaming for justice, but an honest and full investigation could lead to high places in Communist Party officialdom in the province. Its seems likely that so-called “tofu” construction was commonplace in the building of schools and that private contractors colluded with government officials to skimp on essential materials such as steel and concrete and pocket the savings. If these corrupt officials are truly brought to book for their malfeasance, that would be a major breakthrough in the country’s battle against graft. But beware the scapegoat: this investigation could turn out like a lot of others – punishing a few for the widespread practice of many.
The same is true of the central government’s pledge that all local and foreign donations to quake victims, which have surpassed 40 billion yuan (US$5.8 billion), will be strictly accounted for. This promise comes after numerous reports on the Internet of donated goods intended for quake victims winding up on sale in shops or in the possession of people not affected by the quake. Venal officials are allegedly selling items such as tents and rice by the truckload. If this is true, how many of these culprits, the latest symbols of China’s endemic corruption, will pay for their crimes?
Finally, of course, there are the Olympic Games and the 30,000 foreign reporters who will descend on the country to cover not just the athletes but also anything else of interest they can find. They will want to interview ordinary citizens and ask Chinese leaders tough questions about corruption and democratic reform. They have been promised great freedom. Let’s see if Beijing can deliver on that promise.
In the end, however, it will not be until the grand Olympic stage is packed away and the eyes of the world have turned elsewhere that any clear sense of China’s future as a budding civil society will become clear. [link]