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Beijing Mayor and Minister of Health sacked for SARS cover-up

Qianmen, a once crowded tourist site is now visited by few.

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[Beijing, April 21, 2003] In a passive response to the outcry by the international community and pressure from the domestic populace, the Chinese Communist Party fired the Beijing Mayor and the Minister of Health. This move was seen by some long-time China watchers as too late a gesture to quiet the criticism from the general public. In addition, many speculate that the removal of these two senior officials is actually a matter of an evenly fought battle between the new Party chief Hu Jintao and his old boss Jiang Zemin because the Beijing Mayor is from Hu’s camp, while the Minister of Health is Jiang’s close associate.

SARS has become more than a health issue to Hu and Jiang, says an insider in Beijing. Hu sees it as an opportunity to consolidate his power base by siding with the popular demand to rid the officials from Jiang’s camp. But he must make calculated moves and the clumsy cover-up of the SARS virus by the government provides an opportunity to make a decisive move. It is generally believed here in Beijing that both the Beijing Mayor and the Minister of Health only served as scapegoats, as they must have simply followed the decree from their superiors in this cover-up work. The real criminals should be the Communist Party and its ultimate leaders.

Now some major universities are shut down because of the virus. Beijing residents are living in fear because the actual numbers of deaths and the infected overnight have jumped nine times higher than the earlier figures provided by the government — an indication of the seriousness of this deadly disease. It remains to be seen who, Hu or Jiang, will gain an upper hand in this SARS crisis.

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