China Obsesses Over Miami Condo Collapse, Downplays Own Major Disasters

China's state-owned media outlets appear to be coordinating round-the-clock coverage of the condominium collapse in Florida while playing down the country's own recent tragedies, as the Chinese Communist Party's anniversary celebrations get underway this week.

The aftermath of the partial building collapse in the Miami suburb of Surfside has generated a number of trending hashtags on Weibo, China's largest social media platform, where local media organizations are replaying images of rescue operations.

Twelve people have now been confirmed killed in the Surfside tragedy on June 24, while 149 people remain missing among the rubble of the 12-story apartment complex.

In China, the disaster continues to receive intense coverage, but some online commenters have complained about the media's apparent lack of interest in major local stories—including the deaths of 18 children in a building fire in central China, which took place just 24 hours after the Florida condo collapse.

Flowers Adorn Florida Surfside Memorial
A man looks at a memorial for the people killed and missing in the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo on June 29 in Surfside, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The blaze, which left 16 other children injured, ripped through a martial arts school in the Henan county of Zhecheng in the early hours of June 25 while the students were asleep in a dormitory, the authorities said. The victims were aged between seven and 16.

The owner of the school was arrested and two local officials were dismissed after the fire, but media coverage of the Henan disaster has been muted compared to stories about the rescue in Florida—a phenomenon that was not lost on Chinese social media users.

"An apartment building collapses in America and it immediately becomes a trending topic. Eighteen people perish in a fire at a martial arts school in Henan, but it still isn't trending," one user wrote on the day of the blaze.

The responses that followed suggest the Chinese public, while often careful about what they post on social media, are well aware of the contradictions, as well as the government's need to create a spotless image—or at least one superior to that of the United States—in the week of the Communist Party's centennial.

"The condominium collapse in the U.S. has three trending hashtags. I only found out about [the martial arts school fire] after a friend told me about it," one commenter wrote.

"This is a sensitive time," a second added.

A third Weibo user posted, apparently sarcastically: "The Communist Party's celebrations are important. No need to bother with putting small things like this on the trending list to harm the harmonious atmosphere."

China's Xi Jinping Oversees Communist Party Celebrations
President Xi Jinping waves as he attends a performance celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China on June 28 in Beijing. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Similarly, a deadly gas explosion in Shiyan, Hubei, also in central China, has received no follow-up media coverage. Twenty-five people died and another 138 were injured in the incident on June 13.

Eight people linked to a utility company were arrested on suspicion of negligence, but no further details have emerged as the explosion is said to be still under investigation.

More evidence of state-media coordination has been found in the Global Times. The Communist Party tabloid has published nine articles related to the Surfside condo collapse, but no dedicated report about the martial arts school fire.

Last Sunday, the newspaper's chief editor Hu Xijin wrote an editorial titled, "After condo collapse in Miami, will US fix crumbling accountability of officials?"

The headline of another story on Tuesday declared, "Slow rescue of Miami condo collapse shows 'beacon of human rights' is falling."

China's Communist Party anniversary will be officially observed on July 1, but President Xi Jinping has already overseen a number of events as part of the build-up, including a medal ceremony on Monday.

Analysts say the successful party centennial, which comes 18 months after the outbreak of COVID-19, will be considered one of Xi's most important achievements as leader.