As of Wednesday last week, China had reported nine cases of people falling ill from the H7N9 strain of avian influenza. The virus has affected China’s Jiangsu, Anhui and Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai, and three people have died from the virus.
In response to these developments, Taiwan’s government promptly established the Central Epidemic Disease Surveillance Command Center, with Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) presiding over the first interministerial meeting last week to discuss the situation.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had also said that to gain first-hand information on the disease’s development, it had expressed its hope to China that it would be able to send staff over to take part in investigations into the latest bird flu strain.
However, Beijing had not responded to its requests.
If we look back on how China’s bird flu epidemic has developed over the past few days, one cannot help but wonder why the Cross-Strait Cooperation Agreement on Medicine and Public Health Affairs that China and Taiwan signed in 2010 has failed to deliver on its mandate.
First, Chapter 2, Article 5 of the agreement stipulates that both sides agree to engage in exchanges and cooperation on the testing and prevention of communicable diseases that could influence the health of people from both Taiwan and China, as well as in information exchanges and reporting, research and development of vaccines and other matters.
Two people in China had already died from the H7N9 virus early last month, yet authorities put off making a public announcement for more than three weeks.
Taiwan only found out at the end of last month and this means that the “information exchange and reporting” that is supposed to take place under the agreement is nothing but empty talk.
Second, Chapter 2, Article 4 of the agreement states that when one side experiences an outbreak of major disease, that side should provide the other side with information about investigations into the outbreak upon request, and also provide that side with pro-active assistance in visiting the affected areas to gain a clearer understanding of the outbreak.
Therefore, according to the agreement, given the way the new strain of avian flu is rapidly spreading, China should have responded to Taiwan’s request to carry out on-site investigations.
However, it is clear that China has been doing the direct opposite.
Over the past four years, Taiwan and China have inked 18 different agreements — which President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration often uses to tout its political achievements.
However, if we look at how Taiwanese victims of Chinese milk powder laced with the chemical melamine were not compensated by the Chinese company responsible for the tainted product, Taiwan’s inability to repatriate major criminals, such as fugitive tycoon Chen Yu-hao (陳由豪), back from China, and how the Taiwanese government is unable to do anything about bird flu, it is easy to see that, apart from the political interests of a small minority of people, all Taiwan as a whole has really ended up getting from the Chinese government is mere lip service.
Huang Tzu-wei is a researcher at Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Drew Cameron
(Editor’s note: The Central Epidemic Disease Surveillance Command Center dispatched two disease control experts to Shanghai on Saturday last week to gain first-hand information about the latest avian flu strain.)