China media lambast Tianjin officials over lack of transparency in blast response

A woman speaks to a government official (bottom right), near policemen during a protest to demand information about those missing following Wednesday's blasts, mostly firefighters, in front of the Binhai new district government building, in Tianjin o
A woman speaks to a government official (bottom right), near policemen during a protest to demand information about those missing following Wednesday's blasts, mostly firefighters, in front of the Binhai new district government building, in Tianjin on Aug 16, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese state-run media on Monday lambasted officials in the port city of Tianjin for a lack of transparency over the massive explosions at an industrial site that killed 112 and devastated a vast area.

The editorials and commentary pieces echoed frustrations voiced by Tianjin residents, victims' relatives and netizens over the slow release of information in the aftermath of the August 12 explosions.

Chinese authorities have moved to limit criticism of the handling of the blasts by suspending or shutting down dozens of websites and hundreds of social media accounts.

Mainstream media - which in China are effectively controlled by the authorities - condemned local officials' lack of transparency, saying it could reflect badly on the government.

"During the first dozens of hours after the blasts, there was scant information offered by Tianjin authorities," the Global Times tabloid said in an editorial.

"Tianjin is not an exceptional case in terms of the inadequate disaster response work," the paper, which has close ties to the ruling Communist Party, wrote.

"Making some efforts to respond to reporters should become routine if local governments encounter a major event in future.

"A single slow reaction can lead to rumours running riot. And in turn, public confidence in the government will continue to fall."

The government-published China Daily, meanwhile, noted that "many questions... remain to be answered" over the blasts, which triggered a days-long fire and fears over potential toxic contamination from pollutants being stored at the blast site.

"Not surprisingly, the lack of verified information has resulted in conspiracy theories emerging," it wrote.

"These conspiracy theories will build up a head of steam unless the government unravels the mysteries surrounding the incident with a thorough and transparent probe that is able to answer people's questions."

Another commentary published in the China Discipline Inspection and Supervision News, a paper affiliated to the Communist Party's top anti-corruption watchdog, said industrial disasters such as Tianjin exposed serious loopholes in implementation of the country's regulations.

"The sputtering flames engulfed not only lives and property, but also the sense of security," the commentary said.

"The property developer of the compounds and the residents did not know they were living beside a 'volcano' until the explosions took place."

But not all papers were so critical.

The People's Daily, the Communist Party's official mouthpiece, said critics "should know that doubts and concerns were baseless and unnecessary".

"Public opinion should also understand the government's cautiousness and earnestness," it wrote. "Questioning and denying are not a rational attitude."