Aside from the prostrate beggars guided by business opportunities to Beijing to sell their souls, most people in the free world should, by now, be somewhat aware that the rulers in Beijing care not one iota for the welfare of their citizens.
Day after day, rights advocates are thrown into jail, newspapers and Web sites are closed and free speech is abrogated to such an extent as to make any official news coming out of China a farce of Orwellian proportions.
Untold numbers of impoverished civilians have been uprooted for large-scale construction projects benefiting the rich crony minority in Beijing and Shanghai. Individuals formerly feted for protecting the environment, like Wu Lihong (
Every now and then, news breaks out that some food product originating from China has found its way into processed foods, hurting -- and sometimes killing -- pets or people.
Above all this, of course, are modern scourges like SARS, whose outbreak in 2003 would have been far less severe had the Chinese government acted responsibly and not prevented health workers and journalists from doing their job.
But as Beijing has made the environment and health beyond the scrutiny of public knowledge, in fact making those matters virtual state secrets, achieving a full assessment of the health hazard China represents to itself and the rest of the world is an onerous task at best.
So it baffles the mind that an international health organization like the WHO would yield to Beijing's political pressure and ban Taiwan not only from gaining full-member access to this most important body but also go as far, or go so low, as to deny accreditation to Taiwanese journalists because the UN will not recognize their passports.
The question is whether the WHO is a political entity or a responsible international forum where diseases that hold the potential of wiping out the human race are discussed and solutions are sought.
Surely, anyone who cares about the welfare of humanity would acknowledge that Beijing doesn't really care about those issues. After all, as SARS and the rampant consumer food scandals and environmental catastrophes so luridly demonstrate, it is unable to care for its own people and punishes the officials and citizens who do.
If Beijing is unwilling to care for its own people, how can anyone in his right mind expect it to stand for the wellbeing of Taiwanese, whom it claims to represent at the WHO?
The question, however, goes beyond Taiwan and the unacceptable humiliation its 23 million people have suffered one time too many.
In a time of great uncertainty, where environmental change promises unknown future scourges, the world simply cannot afford blind spots on its health radar screen.
By denying Taiwan due representation at the WHO, the health organization it is not only willfully blacking out a piece of the complex world puzzle, it is also acquiescing to Beijing's disregard for the rights of global citizens to responsible government.
We live in an era when a carrier of an undiscovered disease can hop on a plane and infect other individuals fifteen hours later on the other side of the planet, bringing an entire metropolis to a standstill -- as SARS did in Toronto, Canada, in 2003, causing 44 deaths (800 worldwide, including 73 in Taiwan).
A global health organization worthy of its name and budgets, which after all come from its constituents, would have the wisdom to look beyond the narcissism of nationalistic politics and act as per its mandate, which is to protect all, regardless of religion and nationality.
It is high time the supposed wise men and women in the pristine white lab coats at the WHO in Geneva lifted the veil of the leaders in Beijing and gazed into the festering disregard for human rights that animates their policies.
Someone needs to recognize the lie for what it is and end the dangerous charade.
Under its current crony guidance, China is an environmental and epidemiological catastrophe in the making.
Sadly, SARS was just the tip of a microbial iceberg or, as Arthur Kleinman and James Watson write in SARS in China: Prelude to Pandemic?, "a harbinger of future events that might be catastrophic for the global system as we know it today."
When the big one hits, it will be too late for those politicians sitting comfortably in world capitals, or corporate CEOs siting atop the world in their glass towers, to regret trading responsible citizenship for short-term business interests.
Disease knows no borders.
If we are to successfully avert the next pandemic, the human race will need to meet disease on its own rules and divest itself of the shackles of nationalism and political agendas.
This is no longer a matter of states or politics -- it is a question of our survival as a species. As such, we simply cannot allow the world's 6.5 billion people to be held hostage by a government that comes far short of representing its 1.3 billion citizens, let alone the rest of humanity.
Whether it is in the spirit of global citizenship, or for selfish national security interests, the 193 member states at the WHO, NGOs and rights groups worldwide must put politics aside and pressure Beijing and the WHO -- including its Hong-Kong-born secretary-general, Margaret Chan (
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
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