Guangdong Mobile Sends 30 Million Warning Texts for Typhoon, Makes Beijing Look Bad

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Taking cover from Vicente in Hong Kong (Kim Cheng, AP)

As China’s southeast deals with the aftermath of tropical storm/typhoon Vicente, Guangdong Mobile (the local division of China Mobile) has revealed that it sent 30 million warning texts about the storm to subscribers in five cities, in cooperation with the provincial government. Mobile users in Shenzhen, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, and Yunfu received reminders to be careful from the telecom company because those five cities were forecast to be most affected by the storm.

The news comes as Beijing’s government is being asked awkward questions about why it didn’t cooperate with telecom operators to warn mobile users about this past Saturday’s deadly rainstorm, which led to nearly forty deaths in the capital (and allegations that the real death toll might be much higher). As we reported yesterday, Beijing’s Meteorological Bureau claims it would have been impossible to send text message warnings to Beijing’s 20 million residents because its mass texting system is far too slow.

But China’s telecoms say that if the government had authorized them to send warning texts, there would have been no technological issues. All three major telecom providers in Beijing — China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom — have now announced publicly that they would have no technical problems sending warning text messages to their entire networks within a short period of time. However, as China Telecom said yesterday, the companies are not legally permitted to send messages like that without the authorization of the relevant government organs.

The Guangdong government’s successful cooperation with its local telecoms just days after Beijing’s rainpocalypse certainly throws the Beijing government’s failure to do into sharp relief, coming as it does while families are still burying victims of the storm and many Beijing denizens are dealing with severe damage to their homes and property. The rain, of course, was going to cause damage and take lives whether text messages were sent or not. But how many lives might have been saved? How many ruined cars might have been moved to higher ground?

It is painfully clear that Beijing’s failure to warn citizens of the danger by text message has nothing to do with “technical obstacles” and everything to do with a lack of cooperation (and perhaps a lack of interest in communication). This does a great disservice to the people of Beijing, who proved on Saturday that they can communicate and cooperate for the greater good even in the worst of times. Here’s hoping maybe the government will learn the lesson, and next time there’s a dangerous storm coming, they’ll give telecom operators a call.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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