China’s dictator Xi Jinping quickly issued a statement lamenting the deadly explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, reportedly expressing condolences to President Michel Aoun on Wednesday.
Xi’s condolences appeared in stark contrast to his lack of communication with Chinese at home battling historic floods that have killed or disappeared at least 158 people.
The explosion, which Lebanese officials have attributed to a poorly secured cache of confiscated explosive material, occurred around 6:00 p.m. local time in Beirut, placing it well into the late-night hours in Beijing, so Xi appears to have called Aoun at a mutually appropriate time.
“Xi Jinping on Wednesday sent a message of condolences to Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun over explosions in the country’s capital Beirut, which caused heavy casualties,” the state-run China Daily newspaper reported. “On behalf of the Chinese government and people and in his own name, Xi extended profound condolences to the victims, conveyed heartfelt sympathies to the bereaved families and the injured, and wished the injured a quick recovery.”
The explosion in Lebanon appears to have destroyed multiple blocks of the capital, leaving the port of Beirut in ashes. While the blast likely killed hundreds, the Lebanese Red Cross said Wednesday that they had confirmed 100 deaths and identified 4,000 injured. Hundreds remain missing and hundreds of thousands have lost their homes.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed in a statement Tuesday that those responsible for the devastation would face justice, attributing the explosion to the detonation of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate confiscated from a ship at the port in 2013. No Lebanese official has indicated at press time that the explosion was deliberate or the result of any terrorist activity. Authorities have ordered any port officials responsible for storing or securing confiscated items between 2014 and Tuesday to be held under house arrest.
Xi appears to have good reason to reach out to Beirut, as China has spent years attempting to bring Lebanon into its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure plan in which the Communist Party entices developing nations into taking predatory loans from China to then pay Chinese contractors to build overpriced construction projects, leading the economic collapse for the developing nation and increased regional influence for China.
“Chinese companies have visited northern Lebanon and they are ready to take part in infrastructure projects including the expansion of Tripoli Port and Qlayaat Airport in addition to the construction of railways, roads and bridges,” Chinese Ambassador to Lebanon Wang Kejian announced in March 2019 at a conference in Tripoli, Lebanon, titled “the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its role in developing northern Lebanon.”
About a year later, Wang again pressured Beirut to accept Belt and Road project in a meeting with Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who had just taken over from his embattled predecessor Saad Hariri.
“Chinese Ambassador to Lebanon Wang Kejian said Thursday that China is willing to work with Lebanon to deepen cooperation under the Belt & Road Initiative,” the Chinese-run “Belt and Road News” website reported at the time.
China openly boasted of support from Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in pressuring Lebanon to accept Chinese loans and investments as its economy has tanked in the past year.
“China’s intentions in the Levant, as in the other parts of the world, are to, firstly, build infrastructure to materialise its One Belt One Road project to facilitate the trade of Chinese goods throughout the Eurasian landmass,” Belt and Road News noted in July, “and, secondly to slowly … establish itself as a player in the complex theatre of the Middle East, and compete with the US’s hegemony.”
Lebanon’s potential value to China may have prompted Xi to respond to the tragedy there more sympathetically than he has publicly to one in his own country. China has seen nearly unprecedented rain in its heartland for almost two months, resulting in 158 dead or missing, according to Communist Party figures. The floods have affected 27 of 31 provinces and resulted in over 400 rivers overflowing and the displacement of thousands. Some reports indicate that 55 million people have been affected — either displaced, suffered injury or property damage, or lost their livelihoods.
In addition to the human toll, the floods have wiped out much of China’s crops for the year, coinciding with China making its largest corn purchase ever from the United States. Much of the affected area is not just farmland, but major metropolitan areas like Wuhan and Xi’an, as well as key industrial centers.
The floods are also threatening the premier Communist Party engineering achievement in the country, the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. Chinese state media admitted that floodwaters had “deformed” Three Gorges over the past month, as satellite images clearly showed, leading many to doubt if the dam would hold up as rains continued. Officials have destroyed other dams along the Yangtze River to preserve Three Gorges and repeatedly opened its floodgates, artificially flooding communities along the river.
Xi has had little to say about arguably the worst natural disaster since he took office in 2013. In June, Xi issued a national call for the Party to mobilize relief efforts, speaking from Beijing.
“Xi stressed the need to put people first, and value people’s lives most in the combat against floods,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported at the time. “He also underscored the necessity to coordinate epidemic prevention with flood control and disaster relief work, combine prevention preparations with emergency response, strengthen flood monitoring, and promptly identify risks.”
In mid-July, when the situation had worsened dramatically, Xi held another meeting in Beijing, lamenting, “the flood prevention situation is grim.” Xi ordered Communist Party leaders to “take responsibility” and use “more effective” measures to protect municipalities from floods, but state media did not document him extending a word of solace to those affected.
A week later, in yet another closed-door meeting in Beijing, Xi again scolded his bureaucrats to “strengthen coordination in flood control.”
“Xi Jinping on Friday urged local governments and Party members to take responsibility in flood-triggered disaster prevention and relief work as large parts of China were reeling from the worst floods in decades,” state-run network CGTN relayed.
Xi has not visited the site of the floods and did not appear in public at all for the first 21 days in July. Anti-communist, China-centric media observed growing concerns from citizens on Chinese state media, wondering where their president was. One video that the anti-communist New Tang Dynasty observed had gone viral showed men risking their lives in rushing floodwaters to save a giant billboard with Xi Jinping’s face on it, while Xi himself failed to visit affected sites.
Xi has perhaps led no official mourning for the dead or acknowledgment of the profound loss the Chinese heartland is facing because Chinese state media is framing the floods as a success for communism.
The Shanghai-based state-controlled site Sixth Tone published a column on Wednesday asserting that, “residents have benefitted from recent improvements to the country’s flood prevention and mitigation capabilities.”
The state-run English-language Beijing Review boasted, “the timely and rapid response shown nationwide, both in COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] prevention and control and subsequent flood control, with meticulously planned coordination among different departments and regions, demonstrates the modernization of China’s national governance system and capacity.”
“The authorities made accurate predictions about the Yangtze’s first flood of the year two days in advance, providing important alerts for flood control,” Beijing Review claimed. The newspaper applauded Xi for hosting bureaucratic meetings while locals in affected areas floated through their homes and businesses looking for survivors.