Chile display spurs questions on China mine safety

AP News
Posted: Oct 25, 2010 10:27 AM
Chile display spurs questions on China mine safety

A display at the World Expo in Shanghai highlighting the rescue of 33 trapped Chilean miners has raised public questions about China's own mining industry, the world's deadliest.

Visitors to the exhibit that opened over the weekend said China needed to learn from Chile's determination and expertise in mounting the rescue at the San Jose Mine this month that captured world attention. Even China's official Xinhua News Agency acknowledged Monday that the display at the Chilean Pavilion at the Expo had sparked a debate about work safety and rescue work in the domestic mining industry.

"I have to say they respect human life and human rights more than us. Both the Chilean government and its people never, ever gave up trying to rescue those workers who were stuck in the mine, even though there was just a tiny glimmer of hope," a retired professor visiting the Expo surnamed Li told The Associated Press.

"China should learn from Chile, not just rescue skills, but also their inner spirit," said Li, who would give only his surname.

Also in online forums, netizens sharply criticized China's response to its own mining accidents and asked officials to learn from Chile's successful rescue, an epic 69-day undertaking that unleashed a torrent of national pride in the Latin American country. The display at the Expo features a capsule of the type that was used to hoist the trapped miners 2,041 feet (622 meters) to safety.

China has actually made huge steps to improve mine safety in recent years, reducing the number of deaths to about 2,600 last year from 7,000 in 2003 even though coal output has more than doubled. It has closed illegal small mines with lax safety or absorbed them into state-owned companies.

China also celebrated its own amazing mine rescue earlier this year, when 115 miners were pulled from a flooded mine in the northern province of Shanxi after more than a week underground. The miners survived by eating sawdust, tree bark, paper and even coal.

But experts say more needs to be done, particularly in preventing accidents in the first place.

Wang Deming, a professor at the China University of Mining and Technology in China's eastern province of Jiangsu, said, "we need to focus on more improving their work conditions and shutting down illegal mines to prevent future accidents."

Chinese mine operators are still often viewed as high-handed in their attitude toward their workers, and not just at home.

Two Chinese mining bosses were recently arrested in Zambia for shooting into a crowd protesting unpaid salaries and poor working conditions. Eleven miners were wounded after being sprayed with buckshot.


Associated Press researcher Ji Chen in Shanghai contributed to this report.