So far, we've seen riots in Tibet, an earthquake in Sichuan and now the risk of massive floods after dams cracked during the earthquake. And then there's news that China's ageing nuclear weapons facilities were damaged, too.
But perhaps the biggest potential threat is a severe form of "hand-foot-mouth disease" (HFMD) spread by a virus known as E-71. In the past month, 43 children across China have died and close to 30,000 have fallen ill. Like other recent epidemics in China, such as bird flu and SARS, Communist officials denied for weeks that HFMD was out of control and the Chinese media, which are controlled by the government, are probably still downplaying the true scope of the problem. It's unsettling but not surprising to read in Xinhua, the state news agency, about the government's plan to stop the epidemic with "a recipe involving a number of Chinese herbs."
But there is an Asian country with great expertise at fighting HFMD. In 1998, Taiwan had an outbreak that claimed 78 people, and smaller outbeaks in 2000 and 2001. And unlike China, Taiwan has a first-world economy with a Western standard of health care.
Too bad China won't let Taiwan help.
That's because for more than 35 years, China has blackballed Taiwan at the United Nations' World Health Organization. Taiwan was a founding member of the WHO, but was kicked out of the UN and its agencies in 1971 as the world switched its loyalty from Taiwan to its rival, mainland China. China regards Taiwan as a rebel province that, like Tibet, must be reabsorbed.
As George Jonas quipped in the Post on Saturday, not being allowed to attend the dysfunctional UN isn't a very painful punishment. But not so with the WHO, which hosts crucial technical meetings about epidemics, where very practical medical information is shared. It's likely that Chinese citizens are the ones most hurt by Taiwan's absence from such meetings, and not the other way around. That makes China's bullying even more despicable.
Yesterday, the WHO convened for its annual meeting in Geneva, and once again Taiwan applied to join. Not as a full-fledged member, but merely as an observer, so that their doctors and epidemiologists might take notes about the latest in HFMD news. Every year Taiwan applies for observer status, and every year China — which now chairs the WHO — blocks it.
The Vatican is an observer at the WHO. So is the PLO. Even Puerto Rico, a U. S. territory, is an associate member. But not Taiwan.
Part of the political rationale behind giving the Olympics to China, the world's largest dictatorship, instead of to beautiful Paris, or even Toronto, was the hope that the Olympics would hasten China's evolution into a generous, senior power on the world stage that tempered its power and ambition with a sense of responsibility. But instead of becoming more liberal, China has used the Olympics as a license, as proof of the world's complicity in China's worst conduct, from domestic human rights abuses to pollution to its bullying of Tibet and Taiwan.
The Olympics haven't helped China evolve into a diplomatic grown up; the Olympics have excused and enabled all of China's worst tendencies. If anything, China is a more confident bully.
Again, take this week's WHO meeting in Geneva. China's veto of Taiwanese medical observers was expected. But China went further, banning not just Taiwanese doctors, but denying press credentials to reporters from Taiwan. China is now effectively exporting its policies of media censorship.
The payoff for giving the Olympics to a sweltering, overcrowded, smoggy city was supposed to be that China would try to put its best foot forward, and liberalize itself like most other leading powers. No such thing has happened; China has in fact dragged our standards down, at least at the WHO. And in the meantime, tens of thousands of Chinese children are paying the price.