SARS might heal China
What's striking about severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is how easily the current situation could have been averted if the disease had been caught at an early stage.
If it had first broken out in a modern democracy like Taiwan, there wouldn't be the danger of a global epidemic today. But SARS had its birth in one of those backward places ruled by a small band of strongmen.
If the American adventure in Iraq has done anything, it has shown just how fragile such a regime can be in the bright spotlight of the media. Any little thing that blows the ruling party's cover can do it in. A display of American tanks in the center of Baghdad and the whole Iraqi regime collapses unexpectedly, like a house of cards.
What holds such a dictatorship up in the first place is the people's fear that nothing could possibly prevail against it. Those in power will stop at nothing to sustain this illusion. They know it only takes a pinprick to explode their scheme.
Controlling information is what they're all about. Just a momentary flash of fear appeared on Nicolai Ceaucesceau's face when an unruly bunch inadvertently stumbled into the square where he was delivering a routine speech. If he hadn't been on TV, no one would have seen it and his iron rule of Romania wouldn't have unraveled at such lightning speed.
How quickly the former Soviet Union came apart after the accident at Chernobyl. Nations all across Europe registered the radiation before the Soviet Union finally admitted Chernobyl. How embarrassing. What a "loss of face" for the Communists. Things have been changing fast in Russia ever since.
In SARS, we're seeing the Chinese Chernobyl. Before the whole world and before their own people, the leaders in Beijing have egg on their faces.
A lot more of us are likely to get sick and die from SARS before this is over. But, on the other hand, this one little virus may already be doing what Tianamen Square couldn't. SARS might heal China.
Not a little emporer
While sharing the concerns of Liou To-hai ("Bush and Kim: the `little emperors'"April 26, p.8) over the emergence of an international "game of chicken" between North Korea and the US, I take exception to his placing US President George W. Bush in the same league with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as a "little emperor."
Political systems and the freedom of speech and expression cherished in the US, but feared in Pyongyang, matter. There was never any serious doubt that Kim Jong-il would succeed his father. The fact that Kim may spend billions on developing nuclear weapons while North Koreans eat grass roots means either: (1) Kim truly is the Dear Leader to his people; (2) North Koreans are especially bovine people who can be led by the nose to accept, do, or believe anything; or (3) the Kims, both father and son, control a very effective security apparatus that need not respect an independent judiciary.
In contrast, Bush's presidency was an open question until the US Supreme Court settled the nearly 50-50 election of 2000. Nobody in the USA disappeared or was put in jail for raising questions of Bush's early problems with alcohol abuse, voting for Al Gore, for calling Bush a nincompoop, or even for questioning some of the policies put in place since the Sept. 11 attacks.