Mon, May 05, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Boneheaded ideas in the SARS saga

At the present time everyone is so concerned about the possibility of catching SARS that the awarding of golden raspberries for mishandling the situation is far from their minds. But, since everyone is surely bored to death with advice over what should be done, let us take time out to recall some of the more embarrassing moments in Taiwan's SARS story.

Pride of place surely has to go to the government for organizing an international conference two weeks ago in which it aimed to present what one newspaper called "Taiwan's achievements in controlling SARS" to the world and this, mind you, when the situation in China was worsening by the hour and there was still no control on cross-strait visitors. Anybody with an ounce of wisdom had to see the government's action as hubristic. Given that -- before the current quarantine controls -- 10,000 people a day entered Taiwan from Hong Kong and China, it was only a matter of time before the SARS situation worsened rapidly. And so it proved. Two days after the conference broke up, Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital was closed down.

If the government's foolishness in thinking it had beaten SARS so prematurely has gone virtually unremarked, nobody now seems to remember the prior, surely more gross, stupidity of the blue camp. It is, of course, so obsessed by the idea of opening cross-strait air links that it will use the flimsiest and most ridiculous pretexts to make an appeal for the opening of such links. SARS is in Hong Kong, the blue camp argued. And so we need direct air links with China so that Hong Kong can be avoided by returning Taiwanese residents in China. This measure would have resulted in the spread of SARS into Taiwan far more rapidly. The blue camp might argue that it didn't know at the time the true situation in China because of the now-infamous faked statistics. To which we can only say that just as one learns at an early age never to play poker with a man named Doc or eat a place called Mom's, one also learns never to trust statistics from communist China. The blue camp's gullibility here only shows how unsuitable they are to conduct cross-strait negotiations.

Quite what the effect of SARS will be on the relationship with China it is far too early to tell. But it was interesting to hear the blue camp talking about how to facilitate the repatriation of capital and businesses from China for those Taiwanese who think that investment across the Strait is no longer worth the risk. It also will be interesting to see how it affects the Lien-Soong election campaign; promises of better relations and transportation links with China do not sound, post-SARS, like an election winner.

And let us award another raspberry, while we are at it, to the WHO. It is not clear whether China was consulted before the organization sent a team to Taiwan at the weekend, or whether it was simply informed. But the question remains, what on earth does this have to do with China? It is true that China claims Taiwan. It is also true that it has never controlled Taiwan, and exerts no authority here -- except among KMT lawmakers. It is also true that under international law the status of Taiwan is undecided as a result of no decision being made about it at the San Francisco Peace Treaty talks. China does not have sovereignty and has not had since 1895. The situation reminds us of the old claim by the Irish government to control the whole of Ireland, including the six counties under the British government. Would the WHO have asked Dublin if it could visit Northern Ireland, in such circumstances? Of course not. So why the kowtowing toward China?

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