The Financial Times reports that authoritative sources in Beijing are telling it that Su Shulin (left), chairman of state oil giant Sinopec, is to become governor of Fujian province, a plum post Xi Jinping, the assumed successor to President Hu Jintao, held in 2001-02.
Su, 49, has long been tagged as a potential political leader. A spell at the top of one of the big state-owned enterprises is regarded as a rite of passage for such rising-star technocrats. Su comes from a farming family in northern China and qualified as a petroleum engineer, making his career at CNPC before being drafted in as chairman of Sinopec in 2007. He has been an alternate member of the Party’s Central Committee since 2002 and was a member of the Party committee in CNPC from 1997 until leaving for Sinopec, where he was Party secretary as well as chairman of the company. He has also been a member of the Party’s standing committee in Liaoning province, all of which underlines the close connection between state-owned industries and the Party.
The monsoon rains that have inundated several central and southern provinces this month have brought the most severe flooding that Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan and Guizhou have suffered in half a century. Official figures put the death toll in June at at least 235 with a further 119 unaccounted for. At least 379 people have died as a result of flooding so far this year, the deadliest toll since 1998 when 3,600 died as a result of the rains.
On Monday, at least 107 people were buried by a rain-triggered landslide in Guizhou. In all more than 29 million people have been affected, with one in 10 those having to be evacuated from their homes. The economic cost is put at upwards of 82 billion yuan ($12 billion). Emergency relief efforts and fortification of riverbanks continues, as does the torrential rain with more in the forecast.
The death toll from the rains inundating the south has risen to at least 175, Xinhua reports, with a further 107 unaccounted for. Approaching 2 million people have been evacuated and relief and rescue efforts are struggling to keep up with rivers in Fujian, Jiangxi and Hunan swelling and more rains in the forecast, though the rainstorm alert has been lowered from orange to blue, the lowest level. The flooding and landslides caused by the torrential rain have washed away roads, rail and power lines, and affected more than 25 million people, causing 29.6 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) in estimated economic losses, according to the Civil Affairs Ministry.
More heavy rain is expected in in the already inundated southern provinces, raising fears of more loss of life from mudslides and flash flooding particularly in Fujian, Hunan and Guangxi. At least 35 people have died and 49 are missing following this week’s seasonal downpours. In Sichuan on Tuesday, 23 people died when a landslide cascaded down a mountain into dormitory tents on a construction site. Across western and southern China, more than 100,000 have been evacuated from their homes, Xinhua reports. In all, more than 150 people have died so far as a result of this year’s rainy season.
Update: More than 2.5 million people across six southern provinces have been affected by this week’s rain and 238,000 had been evacuated from their homes, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Thursday, adding that more than 33,000 homes had collapsed or been damaged. The known death toll has risen to 46.
The hot dry weather in the south and east is causing drought to linger in both regions. Xinhua reports low reservoir levels in Guangdong where rainfall in the first ten months of this year has been 14% below normal. Water levels are also low in neighboring Jiangxi to the east after a month without rain and in southeastern Fujian the situation seems worse with reservoirs dry and more than 110,000 people left short of water. Meanwhile in Shandong, on the eastern edge of the arid North China Plain, 330,000 hectares of cropland are reported drought-stricken with no break to the dry spell in sight.
The bigger picture is that the slow desertification of the North China Plain is not being reversed quickly enough. Artificial rain-making is only ever an emergency response. The grand plan to divert the waters of three rivers to the region will take years to come to fruition, and may have unintended environmental consequences of its own, just switching part of the problem elsewhere. Demand for water has to be tackled as well as supply. That not only means switching to low-water irrigation methods on farms across China’s wheat-growing heartland but also stepping up conservation efforts in the big cities at the eastern end of the plain. It is the rapid growth of places like Beijing and Tianjin that have been a primary reason that the water table has fallen so far and so fast over the past 20 years. Producing water-conservation technology would also make useful work for idle hands in the export factories of the south.
Another case of lead poisoning of children is being put under state media’s spotlight. The Huaqiang Battery Plant in Longyan in Fujian has been closed down after 121 local children of 287 tested were found to be have excessive levels of lead in their blood, People’s Daily reports.
This comes barely a month after hundreds of children living near smelting plants in Shaanxi and Hunan were found to be suffering from lead poisoning, and is only the latest of a series of such cases that have been reported this year, cases that previously might have been kept out of the public spotlight. Central authorities now want to use to show they are being responsive to the popular outrage about the country’s environmental degradation, and snuff out any chance of environmentalism becoming the sort of single-issue around which challengers to the Party’s grip on power could coalesce.