May 06, 2003

The Washington Post has an excellent report on how the CDC is responding to SARS here. The Post seems to be publishing more articles that are straight reportage without much of a polemical bent. There were some very well-written and atmospheric reports from their embedded reporters during the Iraq conflict, and this article seems to be more of the same.

I really enjoy pieces that give you a feeling for the texture of life in a milieu you haven't been exposed to, whether it's a firefight on a road in Iraq or the aroma of new "furniture carpets, and their heady hydrocarbons" in the new Emergency Operations Center at the CDC.

As someone who's seen both sides of the Pacific, one thing I see Americans do well in comparison is respond to crises. There's a deep vein of pragmatism in this country that results in competent specialists like Virginia's Fairfax County Urban Search & Rescue Team that's been designated by USAID as a response team for disasters across the world. Indeed, when Taiwan had its earthquakes a couple of years ago, the VATF were the ones to show up and help them deal with search and rescue. Same with the CDC. I'm sure they're not perfect, but if I had to choose between China's and ours, the choice is easy. Walk into a Home Depot and you'll instantly find dozens of people who know how to do a job right.

Chinese culture tends to emphasize getting something to just work by any means, whether that entails doing it the right way, or doing it in a way held together by bubble gum and rubber bands. There's also a tendency to sweep things under the rug that cannot be handled ad hoc, as has been the case with SARS.

China clamors to be accepted on an equal basis in the international community, but continually undermines itself with amateurishness. Their holding the plane and crew after their incompetent fighter pilot collided with a US military observation aircraft, their hesistancy to engage North Korea in discussion (until recently) with the US, and their failure to report and respond to the initial stages of the SARS outbreak are not actions of a modern nation aware of its obligations to the international community. If they want to be a WTO state, they ought to act like one. Ironically, their actions have probably cost them more economically than if they'd openly acknowledged this new disease from the beginning. They're a superpower only by virtue of their being a nuclear power and their massive population.

At least they're letting the WHO go to Taipei (which has been a major politcal bone for a long time).

Give me the Poles or Czechs any day.

Posted by erich at May 06, 2003 07:48 PM
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