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China has cooked up `American SARS' scam
Paul Lin
5/27/2003 3:31:00 AM

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While attending the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva, Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi spared no effort to block Taiwan's bid for observer status. She also defended China's mishandling of its SARS epidemic in an attempt to change her country's abominable image. The Chinese government succeeded in putting down Taiwan for the time being, but to change its image won't be as easy.

Beijing is now trying to a false image of transparency, but in reality it is still telling lies. Apart from covering up the epidemic, it is also creating rumors that SARS appeared in the US a year ago, in order to evade its own responsibility.

According to the Hong Kong newspaper Sing Pao Daily News, a Web surfer on April 23 posted a Xinhua News Agency report from last year on a Chinese Web site. The report said an American woman fell ill in New Jersey in February last year with flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, shortness of breath and vomiting. She then developed acute pneumonia and died a few hours after she was hospitalized. The author of the article believed it was a SARS case that originated in the US.

A reporter from the US-based Chinese-language newspaper World Journal made inquiries at the hospital in question, Kennedy Memorial Hospital. Dana Earley, the hospital's spokeswoman, said she was astonished by the Internet claim, adding that the alleged SARS case had been a case of meningococcemia.

On May 5, the Wen Wei Po, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, ran a front-page lead story headlined "Earliest suspected SARS case occurred in US: Woman died from similar symptoms in Philadelphia in February last year." The next day, two more Hong Kong newspapers published the news. One of them interviewed Samson Wong, an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University's microbiology department. Wong said the woman's symptoms were similar to those of many other diseases such as a cold and legionnaire's disease, and that SARS patients do not develop a rash like the woman did.

Lorraine Hynes, spokeswoman of the Camden County Department of Health in New Jersey, said after seeing the Wen Wei Po report, "It must be clarified that that case simply had nothing to do with SARS. What she had was meningitis."

Because the party's mouthpiece kept harping on this theme and the "spirit of nationalism," party officials naturally followed suit, ignoring the repeated denials from the US.

On May 8, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan was in Shenzhen to meet with Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. Guangdong Provincial Governor Huang Huahua, who was present at the meeting, denied to a Hong Kong reporter that SARS originated in Guangdong. He said, "I saw Hong Kong periodicals saying cases of atypical pneumonia occurred in the US in 2002." On May 20, during a meeting with a delegation to Guangzhou led by Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce vice chairwoman Lily Chiang, Huang reiterated that SARS did not originate in Guangdong.

The Wen Wei Po used the unconfirmed news as its lead story. Even though it added the word "suspected," the intent to help the Chinese Communist Party (CCP0 evade responsibility cannot be ruled out. Huang's motive for using such a rumor as a confirmed report and spreading it via reporters was even more questionable.

China is unwilling to take responsibility for SARS and the apologies and compensations that it entails. And of course the US is a hostile force in the CCP's eyes. When you can plant some evidence to set the US up, why not?

*Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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