In website discussions, many netizens, who are supposed to be the more educated, active and sophisticated segments of the population, blame others for the epidemic. Some claim that it is the result of the Americans launching biological warfare against China. Even senior politicians claim that the virus was created by the US to divert world attention away from its invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Many people also believed that the World Health Organisation (WHO) travel advisory against parts of China was part of a conspiracy since it echoed the call by the American media to quarantine China.
The conspiracy theories are even given credence by more educated elite segments of Chinese society.
Guo Liang, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said he had received several e-mails from friends who agreed with the Russian assessment. Some even claimed SARS was a U.S. ploy to distract China from the war in Iraq.
Taiwan News reports that a Hong Kong newspaper that promoted a theory for a US origin of SARS frequently serves as a channel to float trial balloons for Beijing policy makers.
A veritable mountain of evidence leaves little room for doubt that the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) pandemic originated in China. Nevertheless, an article appearing in the May 6 edition of the Hong Kong newspaper Wenweipo speculates that SARS actually originated in the United States.
The appearance of this "theory" bears all the earmarks of an attempt by China's Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime to deflect blame for its handling of the epidemic, and to thereby shore up its crumbling credibility, by creating the impression that the SARS virus is the product of United States biological weapon research.
Dr Anwarul Haq, head of the Pathology Department at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), is one of those who accuse the West for hatching the SARS conspiracy against their Eastern rivals.
Terming the outbreak of SARS as “medical terrorism being supported by the influential media”, he said the conspiracy was hatched to safeguard US interests by weakening the potential rivals of US policies in the region.
Here in Cambridge a conspiracy theory is circulating to the effect that the SARS epidemic was started by the U.S. as an act of biological warfare. The argument runs that the virus was released in China by the U.S. government in retaliation for the Chinese position on Iraq.
Academia has certainly seen better days. Outside of the hard sciences the state of much of academia is appalling.
Aside about David Wall's mention in the previous article of the retired Chinese military doctor who helped reveal the SARS cover-up in Beijing: that doctor has not been silenced and he was even granted an interview in the Chinese official media. That interview was probably engineered by Chinese President Hu Jintao as part of his power struggle against Jiang's faction. Wall's speculation that Jiang's faction is using the SARS crisis to gain over the Hu faction seems ill-informed.
The rumours about CIA or other American or Western plots to create SARS to attack China are not the only nutty ideas about SARS that are going around. Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University wrote a letter to Lancet arguing SARS came from outer space. Let us put this in perspective. Normally in science one goes for far-out theories when simpler explanations are not available. Well, Southern China has conditions that are ideal for the crossing over of viruses from other mammalian species into humans. Farmers there live in close proximity to their ducks, chickens, pigs, and other animals. Live animals are sold in crowded marketplaces for later slaughter. There was even a higher rate of initial SARS cases among marketplace sellers than in the larger population of Guangdong province. Therefore there is an obvious most likely explanation for how SARS came to be in humans.
The elite in China sees an advantage in the paranoid conspiracy talk. If some Chinese people can be convinced that SARS did not originate in China this will help the regime focus anger about SARS away from government cover-ups and mishandling of the SARS crisis. That, in turn, will reduce pressure on the government to allow a freer press. Therefore the rumours circulating in China matter. The rumours circulating in British academia matter as well but mostly as a measure of the sorry state of the academy in the West.
The most heartening thing about the SARS crisis in China to date is the role that internet access played in helping to undermine the government cover-up. As more of China becomes wired and a larger fraction of the population can afford internet access the ability of the regime to control what the populace learns about what is happening will decline. While the government will attempt to block access to many external websites ways to circumvent the blocks will allow at least some information to reach an increasing portion of the population.
The internet is no panacea for the lack of freedom of speech and freedom of press in China. The problem is that internet access to the outside world will not provide much news about domestic events in China that would normally only be written about by a free domestic press. Foreign news organizations are not going to assign enough reporters to China to provide comprehensive coverage of all newsworthy events happening in China.
Update: Six masked palm civets (looks like a cat but related to the mongoose), a raccoon dog, and a badger taken from a Guangdong province live animal market were found by Hong Kong researchers to have a virus that appears to be immunologically very similar to SARS. See also this report. This evidence greatly strengthens the case for the scientifically most probable source of SARS as a virus that jumped over from an animal into humans in south China. No space dust, CIA agents, or secret Israeli plotters needed.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2003 May 23 02:40 PM Culture Open Versus Closed Societies|