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2005 October 20 Thursday
Former Archbishop Of Canterbury Loves Life Of Brian

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey demonstrates superiority of Christianity to Islam in Britain.

Speaking as a member of an all-party group of peers opposing the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, Lord Carey said he wanted to live in a society where people were sensitive to the feelings of others.

"But in being sensitive, what we mustn't do is create a society in which certain stories are not told," Lord Carey told a news conference.

The former archbishop said that, following the publication of Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses, Muslim groups came to him asking him to support their campaign against the novel.

"They were very offended by Satanic Verses but I said you are living in a country and civilisation where we are quite used to this," he said.

"They say: 'Why as a Christian don't you condemn the Life of Brian?' I said: 'I love the film and I think it is good for religion to be knocked, to be criticised, to be challenged because we have done a lot of damage in the past'.

Now, you listen here! He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy! Now, go away!

Islam takes the humor out of life. Christianity inspires much more humour.

arriving at Brian's crucifixion Brian: Thank God you've come, Reg.
Reg: Well, I think I should point out first, Brian, in all fairness, we are not, in fact, the rescue committee. However, I have been asked to read the following prepare statement on behalf of the movement. "We the People's Front of Judea, brackets, officials, end brackets, do hereby convey our sincere fraternal and sisterly greetings to you, Brian, on this, the occasion of your martyrdom. "
Brian: What?
Reg: "Your death will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate the parent land from the hands of the Roman imperialist aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viniculture and any other Romans contributing to the welfare of Jews of both sexes and hermaphrodites. Signed, on behalf of the P. F. J. , etc. " And I'd just like to add, on a personal note, my own admiration, for what you're doing for us, Brian, on what must be, after all, for you a very difficult time.

The Swedes said the Norwegians banned Life Of Brian because it is so funny.

This film was initially banned in Norway for blasphemy. It wasn't released there until 1980. Subsequently, it has been marketed in Sweden as "The film that is so funny that it was banned in Norway!"

At least the Norwegians didn't issue a fatwa calling for the death of the Monty Python troupe.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 20 11:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2003 September 18 Thursday
European Cold War Dissidents Call For Democracy In Cuba

Vaclav Havel, Former President of the Czech Republic, Arpad Göncz, Former President of Hungary, Lech Walesa, Former President of Poland all served time in prison as political dissidents while communist regimes still ruled Eastern Europe. They have just written a letter to The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers calling for united American and European support for democracy in Cuba.

It is time to put aside transatlantic disputes about the embargo of Cuba and to concentrate on direct support for Cuban dissidents, prisoners of conscience and their families.

Europe ought to make it unambiguously clear that Castro is a dictator, and that for democratic countries a dictatorship cannot become a partner until it commences a process of political liberalisation.

At the same time, European countries should establish a "Cuban Democracy Fund" to support the emergence of a civil society in Cuba. Such a fund would be ready for instant use in the case of political changes on the island.

While Castro is throwing dissidents in jail the dissident movement in Cuba continues to work for basic political freedoms.

The letter comes at a difficult time for the Cuban authorities. The island is suffering harsh economic downturn and growing discontent.

Last year, "Project Varela" drew 11,000 signatures seeking to activate a provision in the Cuban constitution allowing a referendum on the introduction of political freedoms. It was one of the biggest popular acts of dissent since the communists took power in 1958. Despite the regime's fierce response, the anti-Castro movement continues to thrive. Earlier this week, a coalition of dissident groups unveiled a proposal seeking broad human and economic freedoms after consulting more than 35,000 Cubans across the island.

It seems unlikely anything in Cuba will change before Castro's death unless he goes senile and effectively loses control. Though expansion of the Cuban tourism industry is giving Cubans an appreciation of just how poor they are.

In its economic desperation, Cuba embraced another low-tech business: tourism. Fidel Castro wanted to confine tourism to seashore resorts, but it soon spread deeply into the heartland and now accounts for 10 percent of the Cuban economy. These tourists are polluting the ideology of the Cuban regime. Their wealth presents a culture shock to the citizenry. One Cuban told me a heart-wrenching story that appeared in a Havana newspaper, before Castro arrested the editor. A young girl in Havana was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her touching answer: a tourista.

Would a lowering of US sanctions against Cuba that allowed US tourists to travel there accelerate the demise of the regime or would the revenue from tourism help prop up the regime?

By Randall Parker    2003 September 18 01:37 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 June 24 Tuesday
Communist Party In China Strengthened By SARS Battle

Businessweek Beijing Bureau Chief Dexter Roberts says the Chinese Communist Party is coming out of the SARS crisis reinvigorated.

Just look at how Beijing, once it got going, fought the disease. The measures were taken right out of the old Mao playbook. Long-dormant neighborhood watch committees dusted off their red armbands and started monitoring the health of their communities -- making sure families regularly checked temperatures and that those with fevers stayed home. And it was the strong arm of the party that made it possible for Beijing to isolate SARS patients through mandatory quarantines and by shutting schools and businesses. "The people are more willing to follow the Communist Party's leadership now," says Zhong Ling, a 21-year-old electrical engineering student at Jiangsu University who was confined to his campus for more than a month. "You can see that the government has gained much prestige.

I continue to be skeptical of the argument that SARS will serve as a catalyst to reform the Chinese system to create pressure on the government to allow more press freedom and greater openness. The regime wants to survive and its leaders believe they must not allow too much independence of thought to develop in the populace. A truly free press is seen as a generator of rival bases of power and that is unacceptable to the party.

Update: Writing for Asian Times Antoaneta Bezlova reports on a media crack-down in China.

Beijing Xinbao, a weekly news tabloid run by the national newspaper Workers' Daily, was shut down and its editors sacked two weeks ago after publishing an article critical of the central government in its June 4 edition. The article, titled "Seven disgusting things in China", violated national publication regulations, according to the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po.

In late May, four Internet activists were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for posting articles the authorities said were inciting subversion of state power. A sophisticated tracking system was used by China's Internet police to catch SARS "rumormongers", who are now liable for prosecution under a new law on infectious diseases.

The brief period of loosened press freedom in China occasioned by the SARS outbreak appears to be coming to an end.

Update II: CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam says Chinese President Hu Jintao is retreating from plans to implement intra-party democratization.

"Hu wants to push ahead with political reform," said a veteran party cadre in Beijing. "But he does not yet have full control over the party and army -- and quite a number of cadres are still toeing the line of conservative elders such as former president Jiang Zemin."

Update III: China e-Lobby in their latest report refers to yet another report of the Chinese government's crackdown on media in China.

The newspapers were forbidden to write stories critical of the Guangdong provincial government's handling of the initial outbreak of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, reporters said.

Propaganda officials also banned further reporting on Jiang Yanyong, a whistle-blowing doctor who accused the government of lying about the SARS outbreak, editors said.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 24 03:05 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 10 Tuesday
China Leaders Afraid To Develop Air Power

The June/July 2003 issue of Policy Review Jacqueline A. Newmyer has a fascinating article on why the communist leaders in China have been afraid to develop air power to exploit it to the fullest. They are afraid to give too much power to individual warriors.

The exploitation of earlier, combat-ready inventions, such as crossbows (between 300 and 100 BC) and trebuchets (catapults, about 500 AD), was similarly delayed until the reign of the non-ethnically Chinese Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Where the ethnically Chinese Song Dynasty had feared that distributing crossbows would upset the class system by empowering ordinary soldiers, the Mongols were free of such reservations, or, at least, they refused to let domestic political considerations impinge on their program of conquest.7 China's wariness of weapons development in the twentieth century bears traces of the suspicion surrounding technology in the imperial age. The same concerns about empowering individuals and disturbing the domestic status quo motivated the rulers of the Song Dynasty and Mao.

The potential of technology to empower soldiers is perhaps nowhere more stark than in the field of air power. The pilot is a virtuoso, commanding a machine that grants him surpassing mobility. From his position in the cockpit, he can not only defy nature but also, if sufficiently motivated, threaten his own regime. (9-11 provided a horrific demonstration of what can happen when control of an airplane falls into the wrong hands.) For this reason, modern air power poses a highly potent threat to authoritarian governments. An insubordinate air force pilot or two might wreak destruction on a grand scale.

Newmyer traces the origins of modern Chinese leadership attitudes toward air power back to Taoism and Confucianism. She points out the role of People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in Lin Biao's attempted coup and even says that Falun Gong was particularly popular in the PLAAF. The regime favors the development of missiles over aircraft because missiles are seen as more controllable by the central authority.

Newmyer thinks that the coming of capitalism to China may change cultural attitudes toward individualism enough to increase support for a more powerful air force. Also, each military action that dramatically demonstrates the steady increase in the capabilities of US air power adds additional impetus for the Beijing regime to more aggressively pursue the development of air power.

The whole essay is worth reading in full.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 10 12:37 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 June 01 Sunday
Chinese Government Now Denying It Lied About SARS

The political winds can shift suddenly in China. With the rate of new cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) down an order of magnitude in the last month the Chinese regime feels emboldened to deny the obvious cover-up it conducted for months.

BEIJING, May 30 -- In a significant shift of tone, the Chinese government today dismissed criticism that it was slow to respond to the SARS crisis, denying it tried to hide the outbreak, refusing to praise the doctor who exposed the coverup and asserting that it had warned the world about the virus in early February.

SARS is not going to serve as a catalyst for liberalizing reforms in China. Things there are now going to return to business as usual.

This latest shift marks yet another turn for the Chinese portrayal of Jiang Yanyong, the retired Beijing military doctor who first blew the whistle on the SARS cases hidden in military hospitals in Beijing. Just a couple of weeks ago CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam pointed out that the official Chinese media interviewed Jiang Yanyong and the interviewer made it a point to praise him.

Take, for example, the semi-official China News Service's (CNS) intriguing interview with whistle blower Dr. Jiang Yanyong last Thursday, which goes beyond official recognition of his contribution to fighting severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

One can only hope for the sake of this elderly doctor that the regime decides to forget about him rather than to exact some sort of revenge in order to make a point to would-be whistleblowers in the future.

Update: See this story on Jiang from the May 21 2003 People's Daily official press where he is referred to as "The first doctor to blow the whistle on the mis-reporting of SARS endemic in China".

By Randall Parker    2003 June 01 11:20 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 24 Saturday
Beijing China Residents Much Less Angry About SARS

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes of the BBC reports from Beijing that the Communist Party's belated but vigorous response to the threat of SARS has seemingly placated an angry public.

And public opinion has begun swinging back their way. It is almost impossible to find anyone in Beijing who thinks what the government is doing is wrong.

On the surface at least the anger of two weeks ago has evaporated.

The Communist Party propaganda machine is running at full speed and the regime is taking drastic measures to contain SARS in Beijing. The public at least outwardly is less angry. It seems unlikely that SARS will bring down the regime or even force major reforms to allow a freer press.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 24 02:01 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 23 Friday
Conspiracy Theories In China, Elsewhere On Origin Of SARS

Chinese people in chat rooms are blaming America for launching biological warfare against China.

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.

Pakistanis who ought to have been trained well enough to know better are joining in since it suits their anti-American prejudices.

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.

Foolish left-wing British academics are wallowing in these stupid rumors as well.

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.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 23 02:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 May 21 Wednesday
Hu Jintao Uses SARS Crisis To Consolidate Power In China

CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam reports Chinese President Hu Jintao continues to use the SARS crisis to consolidate power.

Ways and means that senior party cadres including Hu and allies such as Premier Wen Jiabao are pursuing to safeguard stability, however, may run counter to the requirements of political liberalization.

For example, the Propaganda Department, police as well as the Ministry of State Security are cracking down on publications, Web sites, as well as mobile phone text-messaging that are construed as "destabilizing."

The spread of SARS in China was helped by the government's ability to keep news of SARS out of the Chinese press for months. Some Western commentators have expressed the hope that SARS has demonstrated the need for political liberalization in China so dramatically that the government would feel pressure to lighten up on press control and pursue more political liberalization. However, regime stability will continue to be the top priority even for political leaders such as Hu who are reported to be supporters of political reform.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 21 11:59 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 30 Wednesday
Chinese Leaders May Use SARS Crisis To Consolidate Power

CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam argues that recently ascended President Hu Jintao and his allies may use the SARS crisis to consolidate their hold on power.

After all, it is almost a reflex action for an experienced CCP leader to convert a nationwide battle against major calamities into a propaganda exercise to drum up support for himself. The most recent instance of this was the horrendous floods of 1998, when then president Jiang obliged pretty much all regional and military cadres to pledge their utmost to fight the deluge -- and to support the "party center with comrade Jiang Zemin as its core."

It is instructive to contrast Lam's take on the SARS crisis with that of many Western commentators. Many commentators are drawing parallels with the effects that the handling of Chernobyl nuclear accident had upon the Soviet Union's ruling regime. SARS is considered by these commentators to be such a dramatic demonstration of the failure of a closed society and its corrupt ruling party that the resulting loss of faith of the people for the government will lead to liberalizing reforms. The Economist argues that while this is possible that it is important to note a number of important differences between the Soviet Union in 1986 and China in 2003.

Caution is in order: there are some obvious differences between China in 2003 and the Soviet Union in 1986. First, “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is an economic success story—China has just posted a growth rate of 9.9% for the first quarter of this year—whereas Soviet communism was a bust. True, China's economic development is lopsided, the figures dubious, the risk of social tension palpable. But there is simply no comparison with the dilapidated, aftershave-swigging wreck over which Mr Gorbachev presided. Second, China has already had one experiment with political reform, the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests, which were ruthlessly suppressed.

There are other important differences as well. The Soviet Union was suffering from imperial overreach in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. By contrast, China does not find it at all difficult to hang onto its sparsely populated western territories and China is ethnically much more homogeneous than the USSR. China also does not feel the pressure of an arms race the way the USSR did in the 1980s with its long border with NATO in Europe.

Perry Link, like Willy Wo-Lap Lam, sees the factions in the Chinese leadership as competing to use SARS to gain at the expense of other factions. Link does not see SARS as a Chinese Chernobyl.

Chernobyl inspired glasnost because Mikhail Gorbachev chose to see it as serving the Soviet Union's best interests. But for a decade now, Chinese leaders have been looking at the Gorbachev precedent and inferring exactly the opposite lesson: they believe Gorbachev made a fatal mistake by loosening up. True, some Chinese leaders secretly may be waiting for a chance to dismantle China's repressive system and thereby earn a glorious place in Chinese history. But there is currently no evidence of that.

Among those hoping that SARS will be China's Chernobyl is former US ambassador to China Winston Lord.

"SARS showed that the Chinese political system has got to catch up with the technology," Lord said. "In the age of the Internet and cell phones that it could keep this sickness secret from the Chinese people and ultimately the world ... the Chinese ought to get on top of this and change that system.

Lord brings up an important element that is weakening the hold of the Chinese Communist Party on the Chinese people: advances in communication that make it easier to find out information that the government wishes to suppress. Can a dictatorship maintain control in spite of greater access by the populace to outside sources of information? It seems unreasonable to assume that a dictatorial government will automatically be overthrown if only the populace has enough access to uncensored information. In order for a populace to rise up it has to be both highly dissatisfied with the present state of affairs and to believe that a revolution would lead to a better system of government.

What would cause the Chinese populace to become much more dissatisfied? Obviously, SARS is a threat that many Chinese people feel personally. The direct threat combined with the belief that the government has mismanaged the response to SARS to cause the threat to become so big in the first place certainly increases Chinese popular dissatisfaction. But the disease so far has not killed many people and even in Beijing it is unlilkely that most people personally know anyone who has been killed by SARS.

There is a way that SARS still could cause a destabilization of China. If SARS continues to spread and extreme measures to deal with it continue to be necessary then the Chinese middle class will economically suffer.

If the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, were to grow out of control for many months, it could cripple the fast-growing economy, which might be the gravest concern to the ruling elite. A faltering economy would deal a blow to the nascent middle class and leave millions of laid-off state employees and migrant workers out of jobs, threatening domestic stability.

This is an important point to realize: the biggest effect of SARS for most people is and will continue to be economic. The spread of SARS can be controlled with quarantines and modifications of the behavior of the populace in infected areas. But all the adjustments come at an economic cost. The problem for the Beijing regime is that as the cost grows so will the popular dissatisaction. Still, it is likely that the regime will suppress any popular expressions of discontent. The regime's mechanisms for stifling dissent are probably still sufficiently effective to intimidate the public out of any mass protests. Also, the fear of the public about being out in crowds actually works to the advantage of the regime. In cities whose streets are nearly empty large street protest seem highly unlikely. SARS is an even more effective agent of fear than the police state.

There is still a way that SARS might, in the long run, spark a lasting reform movement in China. The inadequate Mexican government response to the earthquake in Mexico City in 1985 encouraged the technocrats who ruled Mexico to start reforming the political system of Mexico.

The crisis of legitimacy posed by the earthquake was a catalyst; it convinced the Mexican public and many of the technocrats that Mexico had to change in a fundamental way—that its society and politics, not just its economy, had to welcome new ideas.

Could Chinese technocrats and the ruling elite decide that SARS demonstrates such fundamental flaws in the Chinese system as to require a large reform of their system of government? Certainly foreign and domestic popular pressure will push them in that direction. But I would still bet against SARS as serving as the catalyst to cause the development of liberal democracy in China. The elites, knowledgeable of the numerous tumults of Chinese history and of the fate of other communist regimes, fear that any reform process that allows full free expression and democratization would spin out of control into chaos and revolution.

Update: MOre details on the power struggle going on around SARS in China:

Officials loyal to Mr Jiang, who stepped down from the presidency in March, are believed to have backed the idea of under-reporting the SARS epidemic and lying to the World Health Organisation and foreign governments.

Mr Hu and Mr Wen went along with that plan but, sensing an opportunity, changed course several weeks ago and now advocate more truthful reporting and co-operation, officials in Beijing and Guangdong province said.

This confirms what I've read elsewhere: the SARS cover-up in Beijing was approved at the highest levels. The idea that the top leaders intervened to punish lower level officials for a cover-up run by the lower levels is as much propaganda as the cover-up itself.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 30 04:01 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 19 Saturday
How China Hides SARS Cases From World Health Organization

Before WHO investigators came to some hospitals the SARS patients were put in ambulances and driven around Beijing for hours with nurses in the ambulances forced into close proximity with the patients. In other cases they moved the patients to hotels and other buildings.

A doctor at the No. 309 Hospital also confirmed the source's story. "We moved 46 of our SARS patients to the Zihuachun hotel on Tuesday," he said, "There were about 10 SARS patients in the ward when the WHO team visited. The hotel is being disinfected now. I don't think it will open again. It was going to be renovated anyway."

One of the most important questions about SARS in China is whether the government's suppression of the truth will cause SARS to spread so widely in China that it will destabilize the country.

Numerous reports from local doctors over the past week suggest that the nation's health-care system remains hostage to a government that values power and public order before human lives. "You foreigners value each person's life more than we do because you have fewer people in your countries," says a Shanghai-based respiratory specialist, who sits on an advisory committee dealing with epidemic diseases. "Our primary concern is social stability, and if a few people's deaths are kept secret, it's worth it to keep things stable." The question is: Just how many deaths can be kept secret before the health epidemic itself becomes a threat to social stability?

The other interesting question from a political standpoint has to do with the scenario in which SARS spreads and becomes pandemic throughout much of the world. That outcome will clearly be the fault of the Chinese government. Death tolls could mounts into the hundreds of thousands worldwide and perhaps even larger. The economic impact could become large enough to throw the whole world into a prolonged recession. The Chinese government's irresponsible reaction to SARS will surely become much more widely known than it is now.

What will become of world opinion toward China? For one thing, a lot more people will form opinions about China who do not now think much about it. While many people throughout the world have strong and compex opinions about the US the same is not the case with attitudes toward China. People's first opinions of China will be unfavorable.

Perhaps one of the biggest long term political effects of the SARS crisis is that it provides a dramatic example of the value of open societies. The Chinese model of economic development is presented as an argument that it is okay to have an authoritarian government if such a government can deliver fast economic growth and rising living standards. But the Chinese government handling of SARS is a poster case for what is wrong with closed societies which lack a free press and governments unaccountable to electorates. This message is already being driven home in Western reports and notably in the Taiwanese press (lesson to people of Taiwan: you are better off keeping your independence from the mainland). But as SARS spreads more widely the message that the Chinese government covered up and worsened the crisis will spread more widely as well. This will undermine the appeal of the Chinese model of governance.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 19 11:23 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 18 Friday
Chinese President Orders End To SARS Cover-Up

Chinese President Hu Jintao orders an end to the Chinese government cover-up of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Chinese media reports say Mr Hu, who assumed power in March, warned government departments and health authorities to accurately report on the epidemic, and to keep the public informed.

It is pathetic that the President of China has to order the various agencies of the Chinese government to stop lying about a disease epidemic.

Come on kids, stop holding back.

He demanded that there be no cover-ups, warning officials ``not to withhold any information and delay its release''.

One indicator to watch in response to his order is whether there is a large surge in reported SARS cases in Beijing. If the Beijing military hospitals come clean the number of reported SARS cases in Beijing should surge to at least 100 and possibly more. With all the attention drawn to unreported SARS cases in Beijing military hospitals they will have some pressure on them to admit the truth. However, in more remote areas which have fewer foreigners poking around the lower level officials may still think they can get away with keeping SARS cases secret.

There's a fairly consistent pattern of official cover-up of bad news in China.

Chinese leaders complain that lower-level officials routinely hide accidents and falsify economic data and other information in order to make themselves look better. The politically influential military, which runs its own hospitals and other facilities, routinely refuses to co-operate with civilian authorities.

The propensity to cover up bad news is inherent to the nature of the Chinese system of government.

Update: There are signs that the Chinese President's order is going to have some effect. NBC News says China is going to up its confirmed SARS case count in Beijing to 300.

April 18 — A well-placed Chinese source has told NBC News the government of China will announce Saturday that the number of confirmed SARS cases in Beijing is 300, more than eight times what it currently is reporting.

Keep in mind that even if Chinese officials become completely honest in reporting SARS cases there are still large numbers of people in rural areas of China with little or no access to skilled health care workers capable of making a diagnosis of SARS infection. Therefore the reported Chinese SARS rate will remain well below the actual rate with the underreporting highest in the poorest regions.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 18 11:51 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 16 Wednesday
China Being Caught In Big SARS Cover-Up

Five months after the first severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) case the Chinese government is still not being honest about the incidence of SARS in China.

"We have very clearly said you have an international community over here that does not trust your figures," said Henk Bekedam, head of the office of the World Health Organization in Beijing.

The WHO officials are not holding back their opinions.

"Indeed there have been cases of SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] -- there is no question about that -- that have also not been reported officially," German WHO virologist Wolfgang Preiser said after a visit to a military hospital in Beijing.

The World Health Organization thinks there are between 100 and 200 SARS cases in Beijing.

"I would guess the range would be between 100 and 200 probable cases in Beijing," Alan Schnur, a WHO infectious disease expert, told reporters after a WHO team was allowed access to two military hospitals.

By contrast, the Chinese government continues to paint a more rosy picture.

Mainland authorities have so far revealed 40 cases in Beijing, with four deaths, and have repeatedly insisted these were the correct figures. Last week, Deputy Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said Sars cases in PLA hospitals were included in updates.

The WHO position is vindication for retired Chinese military surgeon and whistleblower Dr. Jiang Yanyong.

That disclosure, which emerged from the team's visits yesterday to two leading military hospitals, seemed to vindicate Dr. Jiang Yanyong, 71, a military surgeon who in an unusual protest letter said officials were not counting at least 60 patients in military hospitals.

Will they eventually own up to the larger number of cases? If so, how will they do so? Will they admit that officials were covering up? Or will they just say that they had a faulty reporting system or inadequate communication or some similar nonsense? Or will they just continue to lie about the extent of SARS in China?

The economic fall-out of the Chinese government's handling of this disease has the immediate effect of reducing the amount of business done as people cancel vacations, business trips, meetings, transferral of personnel to staff offices in infected areas, and because of the general increase in uncertainty. But there is a longer term impact that may be even more important for China. Investors will be more reluctant to invest in China in the future because the SARS crisis highlights the risks of investing in a society whose government is so willing to try to hide bad news. Hiding problems can make the problems much worse. Yet even as SARS continues to become a bigger problem the Chinese government continues to cover up the extent of it. They do not just make mistakes. They also refuse to learn the lessons from those mistakes that business decision makers would expect them to learn. Therefore international business confidence in the future of China is going to be lower than otherwise would have been the case.

The New York Times has now reached a similar editorial conclusion about China's political handling of SARS and the problem of closed system dictatorships that ParaPundit reached over a week ago.

You can read more about SARS from a more biological and public health perspective in my FuturePundit Natural Dangers Archive. For economic impacts see the ParaPundit Political Economics Archive. For what the response to SARS says about open versus closed societies see the ParaPundit Open Versus Closed Societies Archive.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 16 11:37 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 08 Tuesday
Repressive Governments Make Fight Against SARS More Difficult

When Li Liming, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, apologized for China's handling of SARS he made a statement which was a classical case of apologizing for something other than the main thing that the Chinese government did wrong.

"Today, we apologize to everyone," Li was quoted as saying. "Our medical departments and our mass media suffered poor coordination. We weren't able to muster our forces in helping to provide everyone with scientific publicity and allowing the masses to get hold of this sort of knowledge."

They failed to coordinate? They failed to muster their forces? Is that really what they should be apologizing for? Alan Fung interviews Peter Sandman, PhD, a risk-communication specialist in Princeton, New Jersey, and his wife Jody Lanard, MD, a psychiatrist about the Chinese government's failure to be honest about SARS.

"We're mad at them because they lied, and continue to lie. WHO speaks in diplomatese about China's increasing cooperation. What WHO is saying internally about China would be unprintable in a family newspaper. China's apology will count when they apologize for lying. And it will never happen."

Now you know: discount what the World Health Organization is saying publically about the level of cooperation it is getting from the Chinese government.

The Chinese government failed to handle the SARS crisis properly in large part because to do so would have requred telling too many people both internally and externally that they had a problem. Their doctors couldn't react properly because they were not given enough information. The lack of official acknowledgement also decreased the speed with which their scientists were mobilized to study the disease. Even today the Chinese population, still ignorant about SARS for the most part, is not going to adopt strategies to avoid infection.

Phar Kim Beng reports that the authoritarian Malaysian government is being less than totally forthcoming with its populace.

The Malaysian Home Ministry has officially directed all local dailies to "adjust" their reports on SARS by leaving out any mention of fatalities. This was to prevent Malaysia from being seen in an adverse light. Echoes of how North Korea and Myanmar manage their images resonate. Nor is China impervious to the temptation to resort to such ploys.

Is the Malaysian government lying? Deceiving? Forcing their press to deceive? Can we trust the accuracy of that which they do report?

The Taipei Times says the SARS crisis has revealed the true nature of the mainland China government as a totalitarian regime.

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.

Minxin Pei, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, strikes a similar note in a Financial Times article entitled A country that does not take care of its people.

Initial deception by lower-level officials leads higher authorities to misjudge the situation. Without independent sources of information, senior officials are ill-placed to rise to a crisis, especially when the political pressure to maintain a façade of regime unity outweighs the need to adopt an effective response. Consequently, an official policy based on bad information becomes the party line. As a rule, the severity of the crisis is played down and blame for the problem is assigned elsewhere. In many cases, even the very existence of a crisis is vigorously denied. Afterwards, keeping the official story straight becomes the overriding goal, subverting the urgency of containing the situation.

Pei does an excellent job of describing all the forces at work in a regime which lacks democratic legitimacy.

CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam reports that the new Chinese leader Hu Jintao ordered greater freedom of reporting for the Chinese media.

According to media circles in Beijing, there is no denying that not long after Hu had become CCP General Secretary last November, the 60-year-old leader took steps to gradually lift the party's straitjacket on the media.

Much of Hu's fresh approach has been spelt out by Politburo member in charge of ideology and propaganda, Li Changchun, in a series of meetings with media officials and senior editors since January.

The way the Chinese media have been restrained from reporting on SARS calls into question whether the freeing up of the media in China is really going to happen. The reasons the party sees a need for secrecy and deception, as described by Minxin Pei above, are not going to go away.

When the Chinese regime stops locking up people for posting negative news in internet chat rooms then talk of press reform can be taken seriously.

As rumors swirled around China over the outbreak of atypical pneumonia, Internet chatrooms face the same gag orders on the spread of the disease as the state-run media, website managers say.

The Chinese public continue to remain in the dark about the threat posed by SARS. In the absence of truth people will make up rumours that embody their worst fears.

Update: More evidence that the Chinese government is still not being honest about the extent of SARS infection in China:

The government says 19 people have been infected in the capital Beijing, with four deaths.

But health workers in the capital have told the BBC that at least 100 people have been infected.

Keep in mind that if the bulk of the population of China isn't being told to watch out for symptoms of SARS then many who are getting milder cases of SARS are not making an effort to see a doctor in response to their illness. Therefore doctors in China are probably never seeing many of the Chinese who suffer from SARS. Of course, this also means that those milder sufferers are not being quarantined and that they are therefore more likely to spread the disease.

Retired Beijing military surgeon Dr. Jiang Yanyong, aged 72, reports the 19 SARS cases which have been officially reported in Beijing are the tip of the iceberg.

Jiang said doctors and nurses at two other hospitals told him at least seven deaths have occurred in their hospitals and that there were 106 cases of the disease in Beijing _ more than five times the figure announced by authorities.

More on Dr. Yanyong here.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 08 03:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
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