An Ambulance Blocked In City Traffic Is "Chinese-Style" At Its Worst

Right of way
Right of way
Zhang Hong


BEIJING - The ambulance was stuck behind a sea of cars. Even though its blue lights were flashing and its siren was blaring, no cars gave way. Instead they squeezed by skillfully, one after the other.

The video, which captures perfectly how difficult it is for an ambulance to drive through the streets of a Chinese city, has been forwarded millions of times in the last few days. It went viral at the same time that a news item was making the front pages: an ambulance transporting a patient had taken 40 minutes to drive three kilometers to a Beijing hospital, and the patient had died along the way.

Ambulances trapped in traffic jams on the way to the hospital are a common occurrence in China, whether it is in Beijing or a remote town.

Every time such an incident makes the news, people think about what would happen if they or a family member were trapped in traffic while fighting for their life.

Such incidents can actually lead some rich people to think about emigrating overseas. Those who can’t afford to leave, can only whine on the Internet.

An ambulance has priority, and legal right of way. This is of course expressly written in the law. The problem is just that such laws are not seriously enforced.

At the same time, the fundamental reason why people often do not give way to ambulances is because much too often ambulance drivers abuse their right of way. Whether or not they are really on emergency duty or just going home, they turn on the flashing lights and siren.

And then, there are also the local officials or military vehicles that avoid traffic jams by driving on the special lanes that are reserved for emergencies.

The sad truth is that blocked ambulances are one out of many similar embarrassments that are common in China. On public transport the special seats reserved for the elderly and are always occupied by others. Jumping the queue to board a plane or in a hospital is a normal thing. Even at red lights, people cross the road “Chinese-style” – that is to say whenever they want, however they want. As long as enough pedestrians are gathered together, they force their way through the flow of cars regardless of whether it’s a green or red light. The list goes on, and we are all so accustomed to this phenomenon in our daily lives.

Rules are made to be broken

Whereas ambulances and fire engines can decide life or death situations, other behaviors are at most regarded as rude and ignored.

The regulations and laws are trampled; and those who abide by the rules are ridiculed by others. The logic is that since everybody breaks the law, the one who follows the rules is a fool. And since almost no one follows the rules, and they are hardly ever implemented, who can enforce them? In the end, if nobody abides by the law, then how can one expect to be protected by it?

Since China’s reform and opening-up, the country’s development history over the past three decades can be more or less regarded as a process in which the old rules are systematically broken in order to establish new rules. This mode of development has made people accustomed to worshipping those who have the courage to challenge the old order. As the saying goes: “Rules are made to be broken.” If you want success, you have to disregard the rules.

Whereas the privileged and powerful are not bound by rules, the rich also try to bypass the law.

All in all, the problem is not that China doesn’t have enough laws and regulations but that the existing ones are not enforced. The only way to make people abide by the rules is to have the most powerful leading by example. If the people at the top started following the rules and stopped abusing their powers, people would be truly equal before the law.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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