China’s ‘Grandpa Wen’ Spins a Disaster into a PR Coup

From Spiegel Online:

In the aftermath of China’s devastating earthquake, Prime Minsister Wen Jiabao is running around the earthquake zone like a fireman, introducing himself as “Grandpa.” The Communist Party is seeking a PR coup that will help end China’s international isolation over Tibet.

The prime minister shouts into the megaphone, he comforts weeping earthquake victims, he desperately sends off rescue squads to search for each and every survivor. China’s TV viewers are currently experiencing, with unusual openness, how their prime minister, , is attempting to tackle the consequences of Monday’s devastating earthquake.

The dramatic TV pictures come precisely from the very region that caused a worldwide sensation just two months ago: It was here, in the west of China, that the protests of the Tibetan minority broke out. At that time, the world saw another China. Beijing put down the protests with an iron fist and blocked Western reporters from entering the crisis area.

The Economist also writes:

In contrast with neighbouring Myanmar’s lethargic and secretive handling of its cyclone ten days earlier, China responded to the earthquake rapidly and with uncharacteristic openness. Within hours Mr Wen was on a plane, President Hu Jintao was chairing an emergency meeting of the Politburo’s Standing Committee and thousands of soldiers and police were being dispatched. After an initial deployment of 5,000 troops the number was ramped up to 100,000 within three days. The official media, often reticent about reporting bad news, rapidly updated casualty numbers. State-owned television provided non-stop coverage.

…Of course, covering up was not an option. China measured the earthquake at a magnitude of 7.8, a force so powerful that it sent panicky office workers running into streets as far away as Beijing, 1,500km (930 miles) to the north. But China’s leaders are anxious to repair the public-relations damage they have suffered internationally as a result of the Tibet crisis. And they are keen to avoid the kind of criticism directed at Myanmar.

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