Thu, May 15, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Challenging task ahead for Nobel winner Lee

By Wang Chien-chuang 王健壯

Academia Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) is going to play the almighty savior of Taiwan once again.

In order to fight against the outbreak of SARS, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) appointed Lee and Premier Yu Shyi-kun as conveners of the newly established All-People SARS Control Committee (全民對抗SARS委員會). The former will be responsible for SARS-related medical research and development, and the latter integration of governmental and non-

governmental resources.

In Taiwan's history over the past half a century, nobody can compete with Lee -- who is highly praised by those in power and has been expected to play widely varying multifunctional roles.

After Lee returned to Taiwan to take up the post at Academia Sinica in 1994, he became a leader of educational reform. In addition, he was responsible for the reconstruction work after the massive 921 earthquake three years ago. He also stumped for Chen during the 2000 presidential election and helped him win.

Later, he was appointed by Chen to head the National Policy Advisory Committee and the cross-party task force on cross-strait affairs, as well as serving as the nation's representative to an APEC summit.

Now, even the nation's battle against SARS cannot proceed without him.

These roles belong to very different arenas. He took some of these jobs out of his sense of responsibility and some others with reluctance. At first he refused to head the SARS control body. Outsiders are unable to know whether he did not want to face the legislature's supervision or whether it was because epidemic control is not his specialty.

But since his refusal was not accepted, the nation's safety is upon his shoulders again.

The 67-year-old Lee is an expert in chemistry. So SARS-related medical research and development are not his areas of expertise. There are many candidates who are more suitable for the job.

The fact that he was a Nobel laureate in chemistry in 1986 cannot change the maxim that "difference in profession makes one feel worlds apart," as the Chinese saying goes.

It's therefore conceivable that many people may disapprove of his new role. Fighting against a fatal disease is different from fighting against declining politics. Since he has already accepted his new role, however, he must take the utmost care to accomplish his mission.

Sectarianism exists in political circles as well as medical circles in this country. Integration seems to be impossible as different factions are unwilling to share their resources.

Since the epidemic broke out, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong were quick to established a joint research team and cooperate with one another on virus research, infection investigation, medical treatments and other issues.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also required its members to launch large-scale cross-national cooperation.

Unfortunately, the academic and medical circles in this nation remain completely unintegrated on any level. But anyone in those circles knows that it's an idiotic dream to expect Department of Health Director-General Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲) to play the role of integrator.

As a result, Lee will have to be a genuine integrator, not just an integrator in name only. Starting from himself, all factions must abandon their sectarian biases while sharing their resources together.

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