Bird Flu in China: Domestic and International Implications

 

IITM CSC Article #50
3 May 2013

Bird Flu in China: Domestic and International Implications

In the last month, there has been a surge in the cases of bird flu in China. As per CNN reports, Chinese authorities have killed reportedly more than 20,000 birds around the Shanghai trading zone and have also declared trading supervisions in a number of cities. According to reports, this has affected around 38 people. Reuters reported that the death toll has reportedly risen to 24. It has also reported that a Taiwanese citizen who was traveling to China also died from the infection. As per Deccan Herald, Shanghai alone has registered around 33 cases of infection.
 
However the Chinese reaction has been quite different when compared to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. With the H7N9 virus China has been very open and cooperative with the World Health Organization (WHO) and has been sharing information. The WHO has even praised the steps undertaken by China in order to prevent the spread of the virus. This strain of the virus has been termed as the ‘most lethal’ by the WHO, believed to spread faster to humans.
 
As per media reports, in the last week of April, Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, during his visit to China’s disease control agency in Beijing said that given that this was a new virus, a state of high alert was necessary. He also appeared satisfied that efforts to tackle the virus were effective.
 
The recent events and openness of the Chinese government highlights the fact that China has accepted its position ‘as an important player in the global domain’. The most expected reaction from the Chinese government would have been of one where it would have ‘naturally’ prevented all information regarding the developments from becoming public, especially to international community. This is obvious because of the Chinese government’s heightened priority towards maintaining ‘peace and stability’. As a result of these even issues which concern the health of the Chinese citizens is also heavily guarded and censored as during the SARS epidemic of 2003. As a result of its efforts towards guarding the information the damage during the SARS epidemic was magnified 
 
This can also be understood with respect to China working towards assuming a more ‘responsible’ role in the international arena. The global community did not appreciate China’s behaviour during SARS. Beijing has realized that lack of information is a reason for ‘rumours’ and other misinformation to spread. China also understands that a similar reaction as SARS could greatly hamper its economic situation and credibility in the long run. The greater openness may also be a reaction to the new tools of communication today. The government has realized that it cannot be fully successful in curbing news.
 
 In a highly globalized world where China today is the centre point of almost all international trade, China’s borders are becoming highly porous. 
 
Given this, the disease can assume pandemic proportions through tourism and trade. With this perspective, there is a need for the global community to look at this incident as an ‘international issue’. It also appears to be obvious that a single country cannot afford to fight such a challenge alone.
 
By: 
Gunjan Singh,
Affiliation: 
Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
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