This Is No Way to Handle a Tragedy

Wen Jiabaoby Wen Jiabao

Wen Jiabao was the Premier of the People’s Republic of China from March 2003 to March 2013.

Like many of you, I have been following the story of Malaysian Airlines MH370 with a mixture of anger and frustration. And, like most Chinese, I have been shocked by the Malaysian government’s ham-fisted response to the situation.

As a former political leader, I feel like I have the right to say to the Malaysian authorities: this is no way to handle a tragedy.

In the decade that I was premier, I made it a hallmark of my administration to swiftly investigate and resolve any crisis that arose.

When the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake struck, I made sure that temporary housing was immediately established for the millions who were displaced. I pushed the government to provide fair compensation to all families instead of intimidating them into silence.

Those responsible for constructing “tofu schools” were brought to justice, even though some had connections to people in power. I was warned that I would make enemies, but it was the right thing to do.

Many forget that I allowed Ai Weiwei to exhibit his moving memorials to the children of Sichuan because I believe that art has the power to heal. With Ai’s help, I calculated the exact number of victims and tried to recover all of their bodies, so families could mourn properly.

Some said that an exact death toll didn’t matter but I told them, “One life is more precious than all the gold in the world.” Indeed, if I could give up my family’s net worth of $2.7 billion to save just one life, I would.

The Sichuan Earthquake was not the last crisis we’d face in 2008. Later that year, several dairy companies adulterated their baby formula with toxic levels of melamine. In response, I urged the central government to recall all contaminated shipments of milk powder, even though the Olympic opening ceremonies were just one week away.

Some believed that this would embarrass China on the world stage but I convinced them that saving our children was more important than the Communist Party losing face. In the end, the milk scandal claimed six lives and affected hundreds of thousands of people. But how many more would have perished had we not swallowed our pride and intervened?

And who was it that stood in front of a stunned crowd just after the Wenzhou train accident in 2011, offering words of comfort to a stunned nation?

Though I was recovering from a terrible fever, I disobeyed my doctor’s orders and rushed over to Zhejiang to be with those effected. I arrived just in time to prevent rescue workers from burying evidence that could explain the cause of the crash.

Later, I supported open inquiries into what caused the accident and investigations into the deep-seated corruption within the Ministry of Railways.

As you see, I have always stood for honesty and transparency. That’s why it irks me to see a government concealing information that could help save lives.

However, I urge Chinese families to search inside their hearts and forgive the Malaysian government for their mistakes. Not all countries are confident enough to be as open and forthcoming as our own.

That said, I call on the Malaysian government to learn from my experiences as premier, to be more receptive to people’s needs in the wake of a tragedy.

The next time a crisis arises, just think: what would Wen Jiabao do?


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