China's infrastructure: robbing peasants of water

Barack Obama sang the praises of China’s infrastructure last week on the campaign trail, and while he may be all wet, thousands of Chinese farmers wish they were even slightly damp.  While Obama hailed the Beijing Olympics as a model for national investment, the Times of London did some actual research on how China actually managed to improve its infrastructure.  As anyone familiar with totalitarian systems could have guessed, they stole it:

THOUSANDS of Chinese farmers face ruin because their water has been cut off to guarantee supplies to the Olympics in Beijing, and officials are now trying to cover up a grotesque scandal of blunders, lies and repression.

In the capital, foreign dignitaries have admired millions of flowers in bloom and lush, well-watered greens around its famous sights. But just 90 minutes south by train, peasants are hacking at the dry earth as their crops wilt, their money runs out and the work of generations gives way to despair, debt and, in a few cases, suicide.

In between these two Chinas stands a cordon of roadblocks and hundreds of security agents deployed to make sure that the one never sees the other.

The water scandal is a parable of what can happen when a demanding global event is awarded to a poor agricultural nation run by a dictatorship; and the irony is that none of it has turned out to be necessary.

I know, I know … this isn’t the China that Barack Obama knows — and that’s the point.

Beijing at first thought that water demand would increase dramatically during the Games.  Instead of finding ways to increase water supply, they simply stole the water from the poor farmers in Baoding.  The government allowed the reservoirs to fill, tripled the price of water to keep farmers from using much of it, and then built hundreds of miles of pipeline to carry the hoarded water directly to Beijing.

The result?  A housing and land collapse in Baoding in which 31,000 became homeless.  And the most ironic part of the story is that the water wasn’t really needed after all.  When it became apparent that tourists had decided to skip the 2008 Olympics over the Tibet issue, or just because of the Chinese government in general, the need for the water evaporated.  And the infrastructural work that Obama hailed as a model for the rest of the world stopped abruptly, leaving half-build aqueducts and pipelines all over Baoding.

Did Beijing assist the farmers in Baoding after this grotesque miscalculation?  No — they sealed the area off so that people wouldn’t find out about it.  That’s another charming quality to totalitarian systems; they cannot abide being proven incompetent.

Fortunately, we still live in a democratic republic, where incompetence can be easily uncovered.  Obama’s paean to Chinese infrastructure demonstrates his own incompetence, and should disqualify him from the Presidency — as long as people pay attention.