China’s Controlled Transparency

Yesterday I mentioned that China’s reaction to the Sichuan earthquake — specifically whether it called for (or accepted international offers of) aid — would reveal something about how secure it is with its newfound global status. Over at FP Passport, Mike Boyer pointed out that the degree of information transparency would also be revealing.

So far, it looks like the Chinese government is adopting a forward-leaning, if guarded, approach on both counts. As this page from Xinhua demonstrates, information is being quickly updated, and a French-language report from Le Figaro includes government announcements on some ecological risks posed by the destruction of chemical plants and the threat to nuclear installations. Those would usually be the sort of sensitive topics you’d expect the government to ignore or downplay, but instead the authorities have chosen to emphasize the precautionary measures taken.

As for aid, China has expressed its willingness to accept international assistance, but has refrained from making specific requests. (Taiwan has notably made an offer.) It has also ruled out sending foreign relief teams into the affected areas for the time being, instead requesting that assistance be in the form of cash. The move is ostensibly due to the logistical difficulties of transporting crews and even materials into the areas involved, but it raises obvious questions about whether the government is uncomfortable with the idea of uncontrolled information transparency, as opposed to the controlled kind it is practicing right now.