Saturday, August 18, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - More fears about China

International Herald Tribune Editorial - More fears about China
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: August 17, 2007

Will Beijing's leaders never learn? First, Mattel recalled millions of tainted, Chinese-made toys this week - just the latest scare over Chinese goods that is raising doubts worldwide about doing business with China. Now there are reports that the Chinese government is withholding information on a fast-spreading virus decimating its pig population, much as it tried to cover up the SARS epidemic in 2003.

So far, there are no signs that this virus is a threat to humans, although no one can be sure. What Beijing should have learned in 2003 - and what it urgently needs to grasp now - is that when it comes to public safety, secrecy is never the right policy.

The world is too small to pretend that any one country has the right to try to handle a spreading infection in scientific near-secrecy. Chinese officials claim that the disease is an infection called blue-ear pig disease. But that diagnosis has not been confirmed by any outside agencies, and China has not shared tissue samples yet that would allow confirmation.

This is an extremely risky policy. The disease, which may be the result of mutating pathogens, is spreading rapidly. And its effects are more lethal than those usually associated with blue-ear pig disease, a relatively common ailment. The number of pig deaths has not been reliably reported so far, but the epidemic appears to be widespread. Farmers are selling animals in panic, and the disruption to pork supplies is beginning to have broader economic consequences.

The risks reach far beyond China. A similar virus has already been seen in Vietnam and Myanmar. What China needs to do now is tell the truth about what is happening and work with the rest of the world to make sure this disease does not spread out of control. That is essential for Chinese agriculture. And it's essential for China's reputation as a reliable trading partner and a responsible member of the global community.


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