Sat, Apr 24, 2004 - Page 3 News List

MAC wants China to come clean

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Security officials in Kinmen immediately put on their masks after the Chinese government reported two suspected cases of SARS in Beijing and Anhui Province late Thursday evening.

PHOTO: CNA

The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) urged China to be more open in providing information about the possible re-emergence of SARS yesterday after the Chinese government reported two suspected cases of SARS in Beijing and Anhui Province on Thursday evening.

Taiwan's government, lacking official communication channels with China, could only obtain SARS information from the Chinese media.

Taiwan has no access to "first-hand" disease information in China, MAC Vice Chairman Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) said in a press conference.

Chen said China apparently delayed revelation of the two SARS cases for several days because it did not want to damage its international image.

"Disease cover-ups are a serious problem in China, which, to protect its image, has put its people's lives at risk," he said.

The council had no knowledge about the appearance of the SARS cases until the Chinese media unveiled the cases Thursday. The possible re-emergence of the disease, which claimed 37 lives in Taiwan last year, highlighted the necessity of exchanging healthcare information between China and Taiwan, Chen said.

As cross-strait exchanges intensify, added Chen, it is the Beijing authorities' responsibility to inform Taiwan of potential disease risks in China.

Asked whether the suspected SARS cases would affect the dialogue on direct cross-strait links -- transportation, trade and postal services -- that the government here has called for China to engage in, Chen said Taiwan is ready to conduct the talks with Beijing at any time.

The council has instructed its agencies in Hong Kong and Macau and the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation to gather further information about the SARS situation in China.

It also printed booklets teaching travelers to China preventive measures against SARS.

During last year's SARS outbreak, health agencies in Taiwan, lacking assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat the emerging disease in the crucial initial period of the outbreak, scrambled to learn about the disease by extensively browsing Web sites discussing SARS.

MAC has been working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the strategy to push Taiwan's eighth application to become an observer at the WHO.

The bid is expected to encounter opposition from China.

Government agencies will work together on the country's WHO bid, Chen said.

In related news, Chen was asked to comment on Jackie Chan's (成龍) criticism of Taiwan's presidential election.

The Hong Kong action star called the election "the biggest joke in the world" during a press conference in Shanghai last month.

Chen said he disagreed with Chan's opinion, but he would "respect Chan's freedom of speech."

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