China: Ohio Train Disaster a Product of U.S. Federalism and States’ Rights

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that dera
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, Andre Malerba/Bloomberg via Getty Images

China’s state-run Global Times on Tuesday claimed the Ohio toxic train derailment and factory explosion were evidence of America’s “crumbling infrastructure,” “declining governance capabilities,” and the inferiority of representative republican government.

The Global Times razzed current and former U.S. administrations for constantly demanding infrastructure money but never actually fixing the infrastructure.

“As a matter of fact, what Biden has done turned out to be exactly the same as his recent predecessors. Their concern for internal affairs is so slight that you can even ignore it. During the election campaign, the emphasis on domestic matters and infrastructure was just a gimmick to gain votes,” Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Lu Xiang told the Global Times.

According to the Chinese Communist paper, the problem is that America has federalism and capitalism instead of China’s authoritarian communism, so it can never make its trains run on time:

On the whole, there are obvious obstacles for the US in its quest to improve its infrastructure, which mainly stems from its political system. The US federalism lacks a national coordination mechanism, which is affected by factors such as mutual restraints between the federal government and states as well as the vicious development of its two-party system.

Furthermore, about 85 percent of the US’ critical infrastructure is in the hands of the private sector, with the pursuit of profit rather than the provision of public goods and services as the primary goal. This results in a lack of effective motivation for infrastructure maintenance and construction.

Neither federalism nor capitalism has anything to do with a bloated central government administered by manifestly incompetent political hacks misspending the money it demanded for “infrastructure.”

The Global Times was not about to wade into that discussion, especially since authoritarian China is no stranger to corruption and deadly government fiascoes, not least of which was that little pandemic everyone was talking about until recently. 

Ignoring this inconvenient history, the Chinese paper argued that only one-party authoritarianism can provide reliable nationwide infrastructure:

Lü noted, the Biden administration’s practices in playing down the disasters that happened in Ohio is inappropriate beyond doubt. But when its Republican counterparts take office, their moves will not be different from Biden’s team. By then, the Democratic Party will be criticizing the GOP president in the same manner. 

This is determined by the US political system. At present, both parties rack their brains to politicize domestic matters and even disasters as instruments to attack each other, in a bid to gain more support. Unfortunately, no one is thinking carefully about how to address these problems and how to prevent similar tragedies from repeating, Lü continued.

In the case of the Ohio train disaster, local and state officials have been the ones trying to accomplish something while the Biden administration studiously ignored the accident and its fallout, both of the political and literal varieties. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has demanded the railroad company do more to clean up its mess, while state health officials quickly established a health clinic in East Palestine.

Meanwhile, the ostensible federal Secretary of Transportation mumbles about visiting the disaster area one of these days, “when the time is right,” and gets angry at reporters for pestering him with questions about East Palestine.

Last year, another state government in Florida marshaled an astoundingly effective response to an unexpected natural disaster. It makes sense that state and local officials would know more about their areas than distant federal bureaucrats. The federal government can, in turn, make enormous resources available quickly, provided it has competent management. 

Federalism is not an inherent impediment to either disaster relief or infrastructure maintenance, and authoritarianism does not guarantee either efficiency or wisdom, as anyone living downstream of China can tell you – or, for that matter, any Chinese villager whose home was washed away in deadly floods unleashed by the admitted incompetence of Communist Party officials.


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