On April 20, Chinese authorities announced the dismissal of Minister of Health Zhang Wenkang (張文康) and Beijing Mayor Meng Xuenong (孟學農). President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) fired Zhang -- who is Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin's (江澤民) private physician and confidante -- because the ministry was hiding the truth about the epidemic, and that its handling of SARS was weak and inappropriate. But it also implies a show of power aimed at Jiang.
The mayor of Beijing was appointed by Hu himself, and they both belonged to the Communist Youth League of China. Hu removed Meng as well in a show of impartiality. If the SARS situation spins out of control, Hu may become yet another of its victims.
It could be said that Zhang, who has been habitually cheating both superiors and subordinates as well as adopting deceptive public policies, got what was coming to him when he was dismissed. On Chinese Web sites, he has been discussed along with Iraq's former information minister Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf as famous sources of false news.
At the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva in May last year, Zhang objected to Taiwan's desire to join the organization, preposterously saying that Taiwan wasn't a nation and that it wasn't a member of the UN. He wasn't ashamed of boasting that China was capable of caring for the health of its 23 million compatriots on Taiwan.
After the meeting, I denounced Zhang's ridiculous lies at a press conference, where I revealed that there were millions of AIDS victims in China. I also revealed Beijing's loathsome behavior in hiding the truth both domestically and internationally and its disregard of human life.
The international community has severely criticized the Chinese government for its handling of SARS and its erroneous methods. This includes the attitudes that family secrets shall be kept in the family and that illness therefore shall be concealed rather than telling a doctor. China thus treated the epidemic as a state secret, banned all media reports and refused to cooperate with World Health Organization (WHO) experts. This resulted in SARS spreading throughout China and also to other countries.
The April 26 edition of the The Economist used the question "Could it Become China's Chernobyl?" to describe Beijing's way of handling this virus and man-made disaster.
A few days ago, officials from the Ministry of Health did not forget to make announcements completely void of credibility. They said they "were willing to help Taiwan obtain the necessary assistance from the WHO." In fact, China can hardly take care of itself as it is facing an unprecedented epidemic.
What qualifications and capabilities does China have to care for the health of the people of Taiwan? The international community is of the opinion that the spread of SARS greatly improves the legitimacy and persuasiveness of a case for Taiwanese participation in the WHO. This is the strong impression gained during a lobbying tour beginning April 21 that took me and eight other legislators to the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Austria.
We reminded members of parliament (MPs), officials, academics and media in these countries that:
The SARS epidemic highlights the dangers and irrationality of keeping Taiwan from participating in the WHO disease report and response network.