On Friday, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) indicated that he would call a top-level national security meeting to help Taiwan better prepare for the possible outbreak of bird flu. Indeed, as the H5N1 strain of bird flu spreads around Asia and the rest of the world, Taiwan has been lucky in keeping the disease out and should do everything within its power to keep up the good work.
However, as the threat from the disease looms large in neighboring countries and countries further afield, Taiwan, like other members of the international community, should play a more active role in preventing and tackling outbreaks of avian flu.
The biggest threat to Taiwan would be a serious outbreak of bird flu in China. Only on Friday, the World Health Organization asked the Chinese government to confirm whether the death of a 12-year-old girl in Hunan Province was caused by bird flu. The provincial health department indicated that she died from pneumonia. However, press reports from Hong Kong reported the girl's father as saying that his daughter had eaten diseased duck before her death.
Chinese health officials have conceded that there have been outbreaks in five other provinces. There have also been several incidents of large numbers of poultry dying of suspected flu. One such incident took place in a chicken farm near Shanghai, a contrast to the remote rural areas typically associated with the disease.
In view of China's past record in concealing serious outbreaks of disease -- most notably during the SARS crisis -- it is difficult to believe that Beijing will not continue to cover up the truth in order to preserve its international image.
Obviously Beijing knows full well the damage done to its international image by the incompetence it showed in dealing with SARS. So, recently, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) reassured the world that bird flu is under control in his country. Unfortunately, once one's reputation is tarnished, it can be hard to rebuild, especially given reports of Chinese government officials driving away members of Hong Kong's press when they tried to visit sites around China where outbreaks have allegedly occurred.
Even Hong Kong's government is worried about the potential impact on the region should an outbreak get out of control. Taiwan has every reason to be on full alert.
While Chinese officials have insisted that Hong Kong and Taiwan will be quickly notified in the event of an outbreak, one cannot help but wonder how seriously that promise can be taken when politicians from Hong Kong have complained about such measures as being mere window dressing.
In view of the serious health threat posed by the flu to the entire region, Beijing should abandon its past practices and keep both the international community, especially close neighbors such as Taiwan, up to date with news of any outbreak of the disease.
In addition, in view of the nation's continued success in keeping out H5N1, Taiwan should be rewarded by being given the chance to play a greater role in sharing its experiences with other members of the international community.
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