Xi Jinping Absent on Historic Floods as China Braces for Water Level Peak

This photo taken on July 19, 2020 shows water being released from the Three Gorges Dam, a gigantic hydropower project on the Yangtze river, to relieve flood pressure in Yichang, central China's Hubei province. - Rising waters across central and eastern China have left over 140 people dead or missing, …
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping is planning a speech on banking Tuesday, yet another event in which he is unlikely to speak on emergency relief efforts to save the millions of people threatened by severe flooding.

Chinese officials fear that the highest water levels caused by the flooding will occur on Tuesday while Xi is scheduled to address the board of governors of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The floods are occurring along the 4,000-mile-long Yangtze River and threaten 27 provinces.

Chinese officials destroyed a smaller dam along the Yangtze to save the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. Satellite photos taken last year suggest Three Gorges is significantly deformed and may not withstand the pressure of the floodwaters, putting thousands of lives and China’s industrial powerhouse region in danger.

According to the South China Morning Post, 433 rivers are currently flooding, affecting over 37 million people. The death and missing toll currently stands at 144 people; thousands are displaced. The newspaper notes that the Yangtze River Basin generates nearly half of China’s GDP.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reportedly offered few details on Xi Jinping’s address Tuesday. Chinese media noted that the same meeting last year centered on the theme of “Cooperation and Connectivity.”

“AIIB, officially established in December 25, 2015, is a bank offering sovereign and non-sovereign financing for sustainable projects in energy, power generation, transportation, rural infrastructure, environmental protection, and logistics across Asia,” Chinese state television network CCTV noted.

Like this appearance, much of Xi’s attention in the past two weeks has focused on China’s international presence. Last week, Xi celebrated the launch of a Chinese unmanned mission to Mars named “Tianwen,” an achievement for the “great socialist cause.” Prior to that, Xi offered vague comments on overall political achievement in several public appearances.

“Xi called for efforts to boost confidence and rise to challenges, amid endeavors to make up for the losses caused by the epidemic and strive for good results in economic development throughout the year,” the state news outlet Xinhua reported on remarks last week, without specifying that Xi mentioned the floods at all. “In the face of an external environment characterized by rising protectionism, global economic downturn, and a shrinking international market, Xi stressed the need to pool resources and concentrate on managing the country’s affairs well.”

A week before that, Xi did mention the floods at a virtual meeting on “flood prevention and rescue work.”

“Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for the greatest efforts to brave challenges and go to the frontline of flood prevention and rescue and relief work to ensure the safety of people’s lives and property,” Xinhua reported then. “China has entered a crucial period of flood control, Xi said, calling for Party committees and governments at all levels to take responsibilities and go into the frontline to guide flood control work.”

Beijing is far from most of the flood-affected areas. Xi has not made any public plans to visit the affected citizens, nor has he offered any public guidance more explicit on handling the situation than what Xinhua relayed above.

On Sunday, Xinhua posted a brief news update claiming Beijing would send more supplies to Anhui province, one of the most affected along the Yangtze. “A total of 1.35 million woven bags, 1.2 million square meters of woven fabric, and 130,000 square meters of geotextile along with other supplies for flood relief were allocated from the national reserves to the province,” Xinhua asserted.

Chinese infrastructure experts sounded the alarm Monday that, in about 24 hours, they expected a “third flood peak” to affect the Three Gorges Dam, potentially exceeding the dam’s capacity.

“Multiple rivers in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze catchment area have exceeded the alert level by up to 2.04 meters,” the state-run Global Times admitted on Monday, noting that China had raised its emergency response to its highest level. The propaganda outlet nonetheless quoted a Chinese “expert” insisting that the water flows were “controllable.”

The Three Gorges Dam experienced record-high waters on July 20, resulting in moves further upstream to alleviate pressure. Elsewhere on the Yangtze, some of China’s biggest cities are at least partially underwater, including Wuhan, the origin location of the Chinese coronavirus.

Videos from affected areas show dramatic scenes of houses floating along violent streams of rainwater.

Work to create the Three Gorges Dam, completed in 2012, displaced 4 million people and over a thousand municipalities, all of which are currently underwater and replaced with new construction outside of the dam area.

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