It has been determined that the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which poses a grave international health risk, originated in China. Only days ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared that China was the center of this global epidemic. Moreover, all major media organizations worldwide uniformly criticized China for concealing the outbreak of the epidemic. At the same time, the government has begun to actively take measures to control the illness here in Taiwan. But as a result of political conservatism, the relevant government agencies hesitated in taking the necessary measures, leaving the general public vulnerable. The government's decision respecting the "small three links" between Kinmen and China was a classical example of this conservatism.
The "small three links" were a naive and unilateral measure taken by the government. After the implementation of the links, China responded with passive resistance. As a result, the "links" are in fact a one-way connection, which skew the country further toward China. Due to the convenience of the links, the residents of off-shore islands, including Kinmen and Matsu, began to acquire real estate in, travel to, and spend money on a large scale in Xiamen and Fuzhou. However, there has been no reciprocation by the Chinese. In fact, the problems of smuggling and stowaways have gotten worse. Cheap Chinese agricultural products have begun to permeate the market in Taiwan illegally, not only causing great devastation to farming but also endangering public health and wreaking havoc on the local ecological system, as a result of the risks created by inadequate health and sanitary inspections. These "small direct" links bring more evil than good.
If the government has any sense left, it ought to shut down the "small three links" entirely, to ensure that SARS will not make its way into the country via Kinmen. However, afraid of enraging China, the government carried out half-measures, deciding only to shut down Matsu's direct links. As for Kinmen's direct links, the government decided instead to enhance health and sanitary inspections and to lower the volume of trade. These less-than-adequate decisions are truly disappointing.
To protect the health and lives of its people, a responsible government would have warned against or even banned travel to disease-stricken areas and tried everything within its power to prevent the outbreak of the illness within the nation's borders. In the civilized world, concern for human lives far outweighs any narrow-minded political considerations. Therefore, after the epidemic broke out, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immediately announced that government personnel should cancel trips to China, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong and called on personnel already in those countries to return to the US as soon as possible. Other countries, including Canada and France, advised their people against traveling to SARS-stricken areas. A great number of countries also strengthened health and sanitary inspections of people from diseased areas. So, when the government considered the issue of whether to shut down the small direct links, the only thing on its mind should have been the welfare of the 23 million people in Taiwan. So-called sensitive political considerations never should have been a factor in the governments decision.
China's concealment of the SARS epidemic has created resentment in the international community. The world has become a global village. After the Chinese government began to implement reform measures in 1978, it discontinued its practice of isolationism. Therefore, the outbreak of the SARS epidemic was not the exclusive affair of China alone. It was impossible to confine the epidemic within China in such a way that it could have no influence on other countries in the world. Yet China deliberately played down and even hid the facts surrounding the epidemic, so that not only did Chinese nationals have no idea about the risks they faced (and therefore could take took no protective measures), but the health of foreigners conducting business or sightseeing in China were also needlessly jeopardized. Such a backwards way of handling an epidemic not only violates the human rights of the Chinese, but also reflects the Chinese regime's underlying indifference to human lives. The most absurd thing is that China did not announce the number of identified cases of infection (and only those identified up to February) until the SARS epidemic had gotten out of control and even then, they did so reluctantly. Except for people in Guangdong Province, where the spread of the epidemic is quite serious, the majority of Chinese are still unaware of how serious the epidemic has become, let alone the need to prevent the spread of the disease. Some Chinese thought SARS was an infectious disease that originated abroad. This is of course due to the fact that the Chinese media hardly mentions the epidemic at all. WHO investigators did not even get permission to enter Guangdong Province until only a few days ago.
The bulk of international media commentary has condemned the bullish and irresponsible attitude of China. Even Hong Kong's media has spoken out against the Chinese government's handling of the matter, which caused the special administrative region to be drawn in to a severe health crisis, further devastating its economy. In an editorial published on March 31, the Wall Street Journal went as far as calling on the entire world to implement a quarantine of China, so as to compel Beijing to govern responsibly. The newspaper further indicated that it was not the first time that Beijing had swept such problems under the rug, pretending that there was no outbreak of infectious disease. Case in point was how the nation handled the spread of AIDS through blood transfusions. The editorial also said that although SARS remains a big mystery to the world, as far as its quick spread was concerned, there was no secret at all -- it was due to the government's concealment of the epidemic at the early stages of its outbreak. The Journal stated that the refusal of health officials to issue a warning about the disease showed a lack of social responsibility. Not only does Beijing suppress information about the disease from its own people, it has also been reluctant in seeking outside help to trace the virus, the Journal said. The editorial therefore proposed that all countries suspend travel to China until the country implemented transparent public health measures.
To the people of this country, the SARS epidemic is an unexpected disaster. However, every cloud has a silver lining. SARS has also let the people of Taiwan see the Chinese government for what it is -- a totalitarian regime -- and also to see the "one country, two systems" for what it is -- a scam. Hong Kong, where the "one country, two systems" policy has been instituted, has become an area severely struck by the epidemic due to the inappropriate policy. The severe economic blows and public panic caused in Hong Kong by SARS make the people of Taiwan thank their lucky stars that their country is not also a special administrative region. Otherwise, the SARS epidemic would likely have gotten out of control in Taiwan the way it did in Hong Kong. The Chinese opposition to Taiwan's entry into the WHO has made the nation an orphan in the battle against SARS, exposing the Chinese refrain that the people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are blood kin as nothing but a lie. If Taiwan is able to learn this lesson from the SARS epidemic and thereby stop the trend of "beautifying China and eulogizing Taiwan," the nation should certainly be able to get the best out of the crisis. If that happens, it will truly be a blessing for the people of Taiwan.
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