Floods in China: Yet another critical test for Xi Jinping
Dr Teshu Singh, Research Fellow, VIF

Floods in China are an annual phenomenon. This year’s flood comes at the time when China is already battling the COVID-19 which has hit 27 out of 31 provinces of China. Since June, torrential rain in China has broken all records. It is the most devastating flood after 1998. The water level of 433 rivers in China has risen over the danger mark, mainly in the basins of the Yangtze and Taihu lake. China had to blast a Dam on the Chuhe River in Anhui Province to release the surging water behind it.

The reason for this year’s devastating inundation is both climate change and human activities. According to Song Lianchun, a meteorologist with the National Climate Centre, “the subtropical high-pressure system over the western North Pacific was strong this year.” When this intersected with cold air it led to continuous rainfall in the Yangtze River basin. Yet another reason could be global warming. Human activities such as land reclamation and dam building on adjacent rivers have reduced the area and volume of Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province. In the last 60 years, the number of days of heavy rain has risen by 3.9 per cent a decade.1

Tracing the Developments

The torrential rainfall has affected the central and eastern province of China in the last two months. The floodwaters have swamped Sichuan, Guizhou and Chongqing in the Southwest and Hubei in central China. Amongst the worst-hitarea are Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui and Zhejiang provinces. The river flow is moving eastwards along the Yangtze River basin and the people residing along the river are severely affected.2 The Changjiang water resources commission, dealing with the Yangtze basin, issued a caution about the increasing water levels upstream and in the Three Gorges reservoir.

The water authority alerted the water flow in the reservoir would hit 60,000 cubic meters per second, one of the fastest rates ever recorded.3

The torrential rain has led to the destruction of the infrastructure. The landslide caused due to the rains has destroyed the roads of Chongqing district. The 800-year-old Rainbow Bridge in Wuyuan, Jiangxi province collapsed due to the pressure of the floodwater. It was built in 1536 and use to be the oldest bridge in the city.4

As an endeavour to control the deteriorating situation, three lower floodgates of the Three Gorges Dam were opened to discharge the floodwater. After releasing of floodwaters a number of times, the water level of the reservoir has reached 160.17 meters, more than 15 meters higher than the flood limit level.5 According to the Ministry of Emergency Management, 37 million people have been affected and 141 are dead or missing.6 Inadvertently, the flood has questioned the efficacy of the Three Gorges Dam. The dam was created on the pretext of flood control that use to happen because of the Yangtze river overflowing.7

Role of the Leadership

Akin to the handling of the Coronavirus, the Chinese leadership has once again shown callousness towards the flood victims. While parts of China were suffering from the inundations, the Chinese leader did not visit any of the affected areas.8 None of the party members visited the affected areas. On 6 July 2020, Li Keqiang went to Guizhou (southern province). The province he visited was not much affected in comparison to those along the Yangtze River.9

According to Xinhua, on 29 June 2020, Xi Jinping issued his first public statement and emphasized: “to put people first and value people’s lives most in the fight against the floods”. On 17 July, he presided over the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee to study and deploy flood prevention and disaster relief work. He highlighted that “the national flood control has entered the "seven lower and eight upper" stage. The middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River still have more rainfall. The middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River, the Haihe River, the Songhuajiang River and the Huaihe River Basin may have heavy floods.”10 In the next meeting, he reiterated that since the rainfall in the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River remains heavy other areas could also be affected.11 The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also played an active role in flood control. The PLA soldiers are building temporary embankments to prevent Poyang Lake from overflowing in the Jiangxi province. The PLA troops have been deployed in flood control and disaster relief operations.12

On the contrary, reports coming out elucidate the reticent attitude of the Chinese government. Reportedly, the officials did not offer help to the people affected in the flooded area. Such kind of disaster was already predicted by a Chinese hydrologist, Huang Wanli. He opposed the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Further, his son, Huang Guanhong has highlighted that whether the dam releases the water or not there will be massive flooding. Further, he adds “if the Three Gorges Dam does not release its water, Chongqing city (on the upper stream) will be submerged. If the dam discharges water, Wuhan (on the downstream) would be inundated.”13 Also, flooding of Wuhan has led to another set of debate that states that Wuhan has been deliberately flooded to wipe-off the evidence of the origin of the Coronavirus pandemic.14

The attitude of the Chinese government has once again created angst amongst Chinese citizens. They have been venting out their frustration on social media.One of the posts on the Weibo said: “Why does our official media say nothing about the severe floods in the south of our country”. Another post mentioned: “The topic of flooding is like a tattoo-covered up.”15

The flood has affected the crops as well. It has also affected over 116 billion Yuan or USD 17billion worth in damages and impacted more than 2.4 million hectares (6.1 million acres) of crops in July. 16

The disaster has incurred an economic loss of USD 12.3 billion. The Chinese government has allocated 150 million Yuan to aid flood relief work in three of the hardest-hit provinces: Sichuan, Guizhou and Hunan.17

A blue alert has been released for Sichuan, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Hubei, Anhui, Zhejiang and Fujian. China follows a four-tier, colour-coded weather warning system, with red indicating the most severe, followed by orange, yellow and blue. On 26 July 2020, the Ministry of Water Resources of China has warned that “the situation of flood control and flood fighting is severe.” Yet another round of heavy rain is expected in the coming weeks. This year has been bizarre for China with one more “Black Swan” event. It remains to be seen how Xi Jinping is going to handle this fatal calamity and control the inundations.

  1. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3093713/global-warming-and-illegal-land-reclamation-add-severe-floods
  2. http://floodlist.com/asia/china-floods-central-eastern-july-2020
  3. https://www.scmp.com/economy/article/3094754/heavy-rains-threaten-further-flooding-across-large-parts-china
  4. http://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202007/10/WS5f07a575a3108348172586fa.html
  5. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-07/18/c_139222757.htm
  6. https://www.cgtn.com/special/Latest-updates-Response-level-upgraded-as-heavy-rain-batters-China.html
  7. https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/record-floods-raise-questions-about-chinas-three-gorges-dam
  8. https://www.theepochtimes.com/as-china-suffers-from-severe-flooding-regimes-leaders-disappear-from-public_3434599.html
  9. https://www.theepochtimes.com/villages-buried-in-mudslides-the-china-angle-with-simone-gao_3434242.html
  10. http://www.cjw.gov.cn/xwzx/slyw/48919.html
  11. http://www.mwr.gov.cn/english/national/202007/t20200721_1417249.html
  12. https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1195301.shtml
  13. https://www.theepochtimes.com/villages-buried-in-mudslides-the-china-angle-with-simone-gao_3434242.html
  14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McMGBwNx7FI
  15. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/06/wuhan-residents-stay-indoors-record-rain-china-coronavirus
  16. https://www.bloombergquint.com/technology/china-says-worst-of-flooding-still-to-come-as-situation-severe
  17. https://www.caixinglobal.com/2020-07-07/devastating-floods-leave-119-dead-or-missing-across-china-101576754.html

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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