Today’s China Readings July 25, 2012

Expect Beijing to issue an updated death toll from the weekend flooding in Beijing that is much higher than the current 37 victims. The Fangshan District head has said that there are significant casualties in his district (房山区区长:雨灾造成重大人员伤亡) and the government is making statements that appear to be attempts to prepare public opinion for a much larger number.

This catastrophe could surpass the 2003 SARS outbreak in its test of the Beijing leadership, especially as it is now playing out in real time on Sina Weibo, a service which has become digital sulfuric acid to the government’s credibility. The leadership appears to realize that attempts at covering up the death toll will only make things worse. But assigning responsibility is complicated as Guo Jinlong, the new Party Secretary, was mayor of Beijing from 2008 until earlier this month.

Sam Crane has two great posts on the floods over at Useless TreeThe Politics of Rain in Beijing and The Mandate of Heaven and Communist Party Leadership Transitions. The Economist gives a nice history of the Beijing sewer system in Floods in Beijing: Under water and under fire.

There are lots of rumors flying about the death toll. I hope the one about the 200 person nursing home in Fangshan washing away is false.

And because things are not complicated enough, or maybe because they are, the number two trending topic on Sina Weibo as I write this is a CCTV report about a Vietnamese maritime police ship harassing a Chinese maritime surveillance ship and threatening to “destroy” it. The Crisis Group writes in a new report on the South China Sea that:

While the likelihood of major conflict remains low, all of the trends are in the wrong direction, and prospects of resolution are diminishing.

Let’s hope so…

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