Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lessons from the attack of the Kunming Train Station

There was an attack on the Kunming Train Station in Yunnan, China on March 1, 2014.  According to, over 10 people wielding knives randomly attacked people near and inside the Station, killing at least 28 and wounding over 100.  At this point the identities of the attackers are unknown, but there is little doubt that this is a classic terrorist attack in most people's definition (more on this later).

A number of lessons can be learned from this attack and the subsequent, nothing new but still worth mentioning here.  The first is that Chinese police has always been slow to respond and largely powerless to stop the initial wave of attack because they are poorly equipped and not well prepared.  In prior incidents either the police themselves or the civilians greatly suffered.  In the US, cops all carry weapons, often at least two guns, and especially after 911, have a mechanism to quickly mobilize.  In China the logistics is simply absent.  The first line of defense, police at the scene, as most Chinese cops, usually don't carry firearms or are only lightly armed.  And I am not sure if there even is a real mechanism responding to such incidents and how fast help can arrive at any moment.  It is high time the government properly arms the police and has a genuine plan for emergencies.  One can imagine that if the police at the Station had had enough guns and bullets, the terrorists would not have had inflicted such a heavy casualty.

The second is that knives have been the most commonly used weapons in recent terrorist attacks in China.  This, luckily, has reduced the number of dead people.  In the US, a single gunman could kill over 10 people easily.  But this will likely change soon, and it will exacerbate the problem posed in lesson #1 quickly.  The government needs to have a wholesale plan for such an inevitability.  Again, learn from the US, GB, and Russia.  Clearly, one can argue that such attacks can not be prevented completely anywhere, but at least loss must be minimized. 

The third is that Chinese people should be more prepared as well.  Since the 1980s Chinese people have got used to a largely uneventful society, which is good.  But the world is changing, as many other countries have had this problem for many years.  Next time, it would be a bomb, guns, and chemicals, it would be in a movie theater, or somewhere that Chinese are not used to but happened elsewhere before.  Mentality has to change, can't rely on the government all the time, need to do something yourself.  Like paying attention to your surroundings.

The fourth is one of my favorite subjects that yet again confirms my negative view of the mainstream media in the West.  News of the attack was everywhere in the Chinese official and social media, and some details emerged quite early on, like a group of criminals.  For AP, CNN, etc, the first reporting was hours late, understandable because one needs verifiable, perhaps more information, in a world far away, so it is OK that the first report contained no mentioning of terrorism.  But it didn't leave out the motive-instead it included a sentence at the end that suggested that it might be a grudge against society. 

It smells like a preemptive whitewash more than anything else.  For I am sure the 9-11 attackers also had a grudge against society.  On the other hand, if there is one guy doing this, maybe he is crazy, but everybody knew by then there were a group of attackers.  And the US has labelled many a single terrorist.  I am not aware of any case a group of people attacking bystanders in this manner in the West not being labeled terrorism, although for China it is different fro western reporters.  This nicely fits their talking points that minorities are oppressed in China, so whatever happens must be the government's fault, because it can't be terrorism when they are just mad.  We don't know who did this yet, but for prior attacks the Chinese government claimed terrorist (and the public agreed), the Western media and government always voiced doubt and hardly if ever agreed.  I wonder if this time will be any different.  If it is, will it change how they view the other attacks, as the Chinese government always cries wolf?  Is this time the lone wolf, or wolves all along?

I wouldn't bet on it, especially on the West changing their long-standing narrative, because, frankly, it is a common knowledge that they are the backers of the generals, if not the foot solders, of the attacks, which is once again reflected in the initial reporting.  But it doesn't matter.  Let the Western media and their perrot, the "public intellectuals" in China whine for evidence.  The vital thing is the Chinese government and public need to be better prepared for such emergencies. The Chinese people have largely supported the government's positions; if anything, they think the government and police are too weak.  The responses should be faster and more decisive; learn from the US, but only apply it in China. 

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