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Bird Flu Fears: Should We Trust Beijing This Time?

ChinaFile A Conversation

David Wertime:

A new strain of avian flu called H7N9 has infected at least seven humans and killed three in provinces near the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai, with the first death occurring on March 4. Meanwhile, in the last month, about 16,000 pigs, 1,000 ducks, and a few swans have been pulled dead from Chinese rivers. An April 2 World Health Organization (WHO) statement that scientists could find “no evidence of any connection” between the dead pigs and the human victims can no longer be found on its website.

Predicting whether infection will spread to the extremes required of the term “pandemic” is a fool’s errand. But there’s no question the H7N9 outbreak will test whether the administration of new president Xi Jinping is serious about its calls for greater transparency. The early evidence is encouraging; censors have allowed social media discussion of the disease to proceed, and state media is providing frequent updates. In fact, state-run CCTV’s report of nine infections is ahead of the WHO’s own recent estimates. On social network Sina Weibo—which YaleGlobal rightly calls China’s “virtual public square”—the top trending post is a list of common-sense tips for preventing the disease.

President Xi is surely using the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, as a case study. Precisely ten years ago today, teams of scientists from the WHO were traveling through mainland China to investigate early infections from SARS. Days later, I and the dozens of other Peace Corps Volunteers serving in China were told to vacate within 24 hours, taking the last available commercial flight from Chengdu to Washington, DC. Before I left my teaching post in Fuling, school leaders called the resident Volunteers to a quick meeting. They politely told us they disagreed with the Peace Corps’ decision to pull out; SARS, the dean said, had “been cured.” Ultimately, under then-President Hu Jintao, the government’s tight-lipped approach to the disease only fed panic and sowed long-term mistrust.

With the unprecedented openness that social media provides for China civil society, Xi can—and perhaps must–take a different path. But as Rachel Lu of Tea Leaf Nation recently wrote, the Chinese Web may yet prove “a double-edged sword.” Thus far, it has provided government with an interactive platform to both assuage and gauge citizen fears. But it also allows fear to spread along with information. And if watchful Web users perceive anything less than full transparency, they will pounce, and the blowback could undermine public safety and Xi’s early credibility at the same time.

Responses

David, I am also encouraged by the government’s relative transparency when it comes to recent reports of H7N9 infections. By contrast, as you point out, the Chinese government response to the initial SARS outbreak was characterized by cover-up and inaction. As a result of the news blackout about the disease in the government-controlled press, SARS carriers traveled across the country without realizing that they were shedding a dangerous virus. According to Dr. Margaret Chan, then Director of Health in Hong Kong, China repeatedly declined her requests for information on the grounds of official secrecy. Consequently, SARS also developed into a full-blown epidemic in Hong Kong, from where it spread further to other parts of the world.

In the post-SARS era, the government has taken steps to promote the image of a more open and transparent government in its dealing with public health emergencies.  As part of the government’s transparency campaign, information on the current veterinary epidemics, including avian influenza, was no longer classified as state secrets. According to the Regulation on Infectious Disease Information Reporting Management (2006), cases of SARS and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) should be reported within two hours of a confirmed incident. The Emergency Response Law further requires governments at or above county level to “issue public-related forecast information and analytical assessment results about emergency events.” This is reaffirmed by the Regulation on Government’s Information Disclosure (2008), which asks the disclosure of “contingency plan, surveillance information and responses to public emergencies.” Thanks to the revved-up state commitment, China now boasts the largest (if not the most efficient) infectious disease surveillance and reporting system in the world.

The government response to the ongoing H7N9 outbreak suggests that it is generally following the aforementioned regulations and becoming more transparent than 10 years ago.  While questions were raised on why it took more than three weeks for the health authorities to publicize the first cases, it appears that this had more to do with the lack of laboratory and epidemiological capacities than deliberate cover-up. Nevertheless, as I have argued in my new book Governing Health in Contemporary China, the post-Mao policy process has witnessed a shift from “band-wagon” to “buck-passing,” which encourages strategic disobedience and policy shirking.  For this reason, China’s response to public health emergencies may continue to be bedeviled by lingering problems of under-reporting, misinformation, and inaction.

All steps towards openness and transparency are to be applauded, but perhaps we should hold off the standing ovation for a little while yet.  The first avian flu death occurred on February 27th, the second on March 4th. The authorities waited 20 days to release this information.  

There is a huge deficit of trust between the public and the government that can best be addressed by speedier and fuller disclosure.  The failure to meet this challenge is one of the many things that feeds rumours, which are generally, though not always, even darker than the truth.  

The coincidence of the pig scandal and the bird flu deaths has led to a neat fusion of public worries.  But if the government wants to avoid this kind of thing, it needs to be much more transparent itself and to stop preventing investigation by others. 

Can you imagine 15,000 dead pigs floating down the Mississippi River without hundreds of reporters beating every inch of the river until they found the source and named the guilty party?   Have you wondered why we only have vague indications of the source of the Huangpu pigs? 

China Digital Times gives us a clue: below is the relevant directive, dated March 19, from China’s censors to China’s media, as the government tried to damp down this grotesque story:  

The Shanghai Huangpu River dead pig incident is already being dealt with effectively. Related follow-up coverage should follow Xinhua wire copy and information issued by authoritative local departments. The media are not to send journalists to Jiaxing or similar locations to investigate, nor to sensationalize or comment on the issue. 

So no reporting allowed from Jiaxing. Transparency is not just a matter of officials releasing data to the public at their convenience.  It is also about facilitating effective scrutiny and oversight by press and public,. Incidentally, it might even make the official jobs of inspection and regulation easier to do, if the government seriously wants them done better.  

To follow up on Isabel’s point, the problem is not just whether the government is sincerely interested in transparency. It’s whether it has the credibility that’s needed to make certain policies effective. For example, the State Commission on Health and Family Planning yesterday issued a notice stating that it was forbidden to delay treatment or turn patients away because of inability to pay fees. Nobody could quarrel with the wisdom of this policy; there’s a significant public benefit in treating victims of a highly infectious disease. But how are hospitals to get reimbursed? “The matter of fees for treatment should be resolved through stipulated channels.” I suspect that hospitals, probably on the basis of past experience, will be less than reassured by this vague language, and will with some justification fear that they will simply have to eat the cost despite whatever promises were made. Unfortunately, many necessary measures simply cannot be paid for immediately in cash; the only available coin is the state’s promise. If that coin is devalued, any measures that must be funded by it won’t be effective.

It is encouraging that the high-level reporting mechanisms seem to be working. This is progress. There was a period during one of the post-SARS avian flu outbreaks when, because the virus affected animals, the Ministry of Agriculture was in charge of reporting on the disease’s spread and rigid protocol allowed it communicate directly only with the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), not the World Health Organization (WHO).

Still, I’m with Isabel. It’s worth remembering that in 2003 not only did health authorities in Beijing fail to release information to Hong Kong on the spread of SARS, they also lied to the WHO, the press and the Chinese public about the number of SARS cases in Beijing and elsewhere on the mainland. And they were so bent on trying to maintain that lie—even after the military doctor Jiang Yanyong loudly blew the whistle— that they even hid very sick SARS patients from WHO inspectors by shuttling them around Beijng in ambulances in one case and sending them to a hospital basement in another.

Among the most fatal decisions of the SARS debacle were the orders to doctors, nurses and other health providers at multiple hospitals not to speak about what was happening inside their hospitals. Hundreds of people were infected as a direct result of those orders and some of them died.

The directive to journalists that Isabel posted is boilerplate for this kind of thing, but reading it gave me extra chills, because it echoes the orders issued to doctors at Beijing hospitals during SARS. I remember the quake in one senior doctor’s voice as she explained that, at her hospital (which had handled Beijing’s first SARS case), the orders to tell no one about the SARS patients had been issued verbally and hospital staff were forbidden to bring pens or notebooks into the room where the orders were issued.

Chinese officialdom may have been chastened, to some extent, by the disastrous consequences of that cover-up. And there’s no question that technology has made guarding “sensitive” information more difficult. But that doesn’t mean Beijing has embraced transparency in the ensuing years. Think of the official response to more recent calamities: the melamine milk powder scandal, the Sichuan earthquake, the high-speed rail crash. They tried to bury the train cars.

The scary thing, as Don suggests, is that when people don’t trust official pronouncements and something frightening is going on (and connection or no, 15,000 dead pigs in a river­frightening), they latch onto other kinds of information, sound or unsound, and use it to make—often—really bad decisions. Beijing knows this and rightly recognizes that mass panic during disease outbreaks is dangerous. But the Party’s reflexive method for preventing panic is to suppress information and control the press, which, among its other consequences, only makes people whose trust has been abused for years panic more.

Another side of Don’s devalued coin is what happens when health fears are infected by economic fears. This was at play in the SARS cover-up. Remember Wen Jiabao on national television inviting tourists and business people to come and invest in Beijing just as the disease was spreading through the city?

But unlike SARS, avian flu and other animal diseases directly affect the livelihoods of farmers. For this kind of disease to be controlled, farmers have to trust that they won’t be wiped out by complying with prevention measures. During the 2004 avian flu outbreak I interviewed duck farmers near the epicenter of the outbreak in Guangxi. They had learned of the outbreak when government officials had showed up at their farms to warn them that if any of their animals got sick, their entire flocks would be culled. These warnings came without any reassurance that the state would compensate them. Some responded by taking ducks they feared had been exposed to the virus to neighboring towns and selling them cheap at wholesale markets. One told me if his birds got sick he’d nurse them, he’d give them shots, and if all else failed, he’d hide them.

I am thinking about what it must feel like to be in China right now. You can’t trust that the food you buy is safe, or that the medicines you buy will be effective. You can’t trust that the air you are breathing is safe (it’s not.) You can’t be sure the government is telling you what you need to know about the possible spread of disease. Anxiety levels among people these days must be absolutely skyrocketing. What does that mean, and what will it lead to?

More and more, I find myself viewing developments in China as a series of contests. Or perhaps as a set of races, which are being run at ever-increasing speed and whose outcome has huge implications for the country and the world.

There is the contest involving the environment, which is a race between how fast conditions are deteriorating and creating public outcry, and how hard the government is trying to clean them up.

There is the race to “rebalance” the economy—with whatever different meanings different people might have for that term—and to do so quickly enough to allow a smooth(er) transition rather than any kind of crash.

Or the “soft power” race, between China’s inevitably growing impact on the rest of the world and the often tin-eared, ham-handed instincts of its political leadership in dealing with non-Chinese sensibilities. One proxy for how this race turns out: we’ll see when the central authorities realize that the best name for their propaganda department should probably not be the “Propaganda Department.”

Or the Internet race, being carried out on two tracks. On one, the government forces trying to screen and censor online contact will—I bet—inevitably lose ground to the increasing power and ability of Chinese citizens to communicate. On the other, there’s a race between how much freedom of communication Chinese institutions need if they are to become the true peers of their counterparts in the outside world—for instance, Chinese universities, which will never attract their share of world-leading researchers, teachers, or students if those people know they’ll live with a hobbled Internet—and how quickly the authorities will be persuaded to relax control.

This may seem far afield from bird flu, but it’s the way I view this latest news—and the very good discussion so far on how much the government has increased, or squandered, the reserves of public trust in its ability and willingness to (1) guard against threats to the average person’s well being and (2) to tell the truth about where those threats lie.

The most encouraging news on this score came during the generally very discouraging air-pollution crisis earlier this year. Five years ago, the press would have talked about “smog” or “mist.” Now they were unleashed to say more about what was really going on. Compared with the initial coverup of the SARS news ten years ago, it seems as if the government has—so far—been somewhat more forthcoming this time. But none of us has any idea how much of the truth it’s telling, how much it is holding back, and how much it even knows. If that is worrisome to me, from the other side of the globe, I can only imagine how much more corrosive these fears are to people who (as Dinda points out) are breathing (obviously) dangerous air, drinking suspect water, worrying about tainted food, and now alert to one more danger.

As I say, it’s a series of races. For reasons obvious to all of us, it will be a relief if the outcome of this episode, when people look back on it ten years from now, is that it demonstrated not only the government’s ability to control threats to public well-being but also its trustworthiness in handling information on issues with these life-and-death stakes.

David Wertime is the co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation, an English-language web site that analyzes Chinese media. Founded in December 2011, Tea Leaf Nation was acquired in September 2013 by the...
Yanzhong Huang is a Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he examines issues of emerging powers, global health rule-making, health-related development assistance...
Isabel Hilton is a London-based international journalist and broadcaster. She studied at the Beijing Foreign Language and Culture University and at Fudan University in Shanghai before taking up a...
Donald Clarke is a professor at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in modern Chinese law, focusing particularly on corporate governance,...
Susan Jakes is Editor of ChinaFile and Senior Fellow at Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations. From 2000-2007 she reported on China for Time magazine, first as a reporter and editor...
Dorinda Elliott is Editor at Large at ChinaFile. In her “day job,” she is Global Affairs Editor at Condé Nast Traveler, where she spearheads coverage of global issues and corporate social...
James Fallows is based in Washington, D.C. as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine since the late 1970s, and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley,...

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07.09.13

What Is the “Chinese Dream” Really All About?

STEIN RINGEN, JEREMY GOLDKORN & others

Stein Ringen:I’m coming to the view that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is a signal from the leadership of great import that has much to say about the nature of the Chinese state. It is striking, in my opinion, how effectively and rapidly the system swung into action to interpret and...

Blog

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

THE EDITORS, FEI WANG & others

The Editors: Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the core provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act is not only “a stride toward greater equality in the United States, but also a shift that will reverberate far beyond our shores,” wrote novelist and...

Blog

06.27.13

Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR, WINSTON LORD & others

Roderick MacFarquhar:Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader.  Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn't...

Blog

06.25.13

How Badly Have Snowden’s Leaks Hurt U.S.-China...

MATT SCHIAVENZA

Matt Schiavenza:In the understatement of the day, the United States is unhappy with the recent developments of the Edward Snowden situation. Just three days ago, Washington was in negotiations with Hong Kong to file a warrant for Snowden's arrest, a process which the U.S. hoped...

Blog

06.21.13

How Should the World Prepare for a Slower China?

ARTHUR R. KROEBER & PATRICK CHOVANEC

Get Ready for a Slower ChinaThe recent gyrations on the Chinese interbank market underscore that the chief risk to global growth now comes from China. Make no mistake: credit policy will tighten substantially in the coming months, as the government tries to push loan growth from...

Blog

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on...

THE EDITORS, SHAI OSTER & others

The Editors: For today’s ChinaFile Conversation we asked contributors to react to the following excerpt from an op-ed published on Monday June 17 in the Global Times about Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old American contract intelligence analyst who last week in Hong Kong...

Blog

06.13.13

Who’d You Rather Be Watched By: China or the U.S.?

THE EDITORS, TAI MING CHEUNG & others

Editor’s note:Reports of U.S. gathering data on emails and phone calls have stoked fears of an over-reaching government spying on its citizens. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei worries that China will use the U.S. as an example to bolster its argument for surveillance on dissidents....

Blog

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U....

NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, SHARON HOM & others

Nicholas Bequelin:The best way to advance human rights in the U.S.-China relationship is first and foremost to recognize that the engine of human rights progress in China today is the Chinese citizenry itself. Such progress is neither the product of a gradual enlightenment of the...

Blog

06.06.13

What Would the Best U.S.-China Joint Statement Say?

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & others

As we approach the June 7-8 meeting in California of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping we are holding a small contest. We have asked ChinaFile Conversation regulars and a few guests to envision their ideal Sunnylands summit and then write the joint...

Blog

06.04.13

How Would Facing Its Past Change China’s Future?

DAVID WERTIME, ISABEL HILTON & others

David Wertime:The memory of the 1989 massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square remains neither alive nor dead, neither reckoned nor obliterated. Instead, it hangs spectre-like in the background, a muted but latently powerful symbol of resistance.There’s no question that an...

Blog

05.29.13

What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California...

SUSAN SHIRK, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

Susan Shirk:It’s an excellent idea for President Obama and President Xi to spend two days of quality time together at a private retreat in Southern California. Past meetings between Chinese and American presidents have been too short, formal and scripted for them to develop a...

Blog

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations...

MICHAEL KULMA, MARK FRAZIER & others

Mike Kulma:Earlier this week at an Asia Society forum on U.S.-China economic relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger remarked that when the U.S. first started down the path of normalizing relations with China in the early 1970s, the economic relationship and trade between the two...

Blog

05.21.13

U.S.-China Economic Relations—What Will the Next...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

On Monday, within hours of the announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on a visit to California on June 7-8, Tung Chee-hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, introduced former U.S....

Blog

05.16.13

China: What’s Going Right?

MICHAEL ZHAO, JAMES FALLOWS & others

Michael Zhao:On a recent trip to China, meeting mostly with former colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I got a dose of optimism and hope for one aspect of the motherland. In terms of science, or laying down a solid foundation for better science to come, things are...

Blog

05.14.13

Why Can’t China Make Its Food Safe?—Or Can It?

ALEX WANG, JOHN C. BALZANO & others

The month my wife and I moved to Beijing in 2004, I saw a bag of oatmeal at our local grocery store prominently labeled: “NOT POLLUTED!” How funny that this would be a selling point, we thought.But 7 years later as we prepared to return to the US, what was once a joke had...

Blog

05.10.13

What’s China’s Game in the Middle East?

RACHEL BEITARIE, MASSOUD HAYOUN & others

Rachel Beitarie:Xi Jinping’s four point proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is interesting not so much for its content, as for its source. While China has maintained the appearance of being involved in Middle East politics for years, its top leaders, so far,...

Blog

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese...

RACHEL LU, ANDREW J. NATHAN & others

With a population base of 1.3 billion people, China has no shortage of strange and gruesome crimes, but the attempted murder of Zhu Ling by thallium poisoning in 1995 is burning up China’s social media long after the trails have gone cold. Zhu, a brilliant and beautiful...

Blog

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm...

THE EDITORS, STEPHANIE T. KLEINE-AHLBRANDT & others

On April 30, as tensions around China’s claims to territories in the South- and East China Seas continued to simmer, we began what proved to be a popular ChinaFile Conversation, asking the question, What's Really at the Core of China’s ‘Core Interests’? The participants...

Blog

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core...

SHAI OSTER, ANDREW J. NATHAN & others

Shai Oster:It’s Pilates diplomacy—work on your core. China’s diplomats keep talking about China’s core interests and it’s a growing list. In 2011, China included its political system and social stability as core interests. This year, it has added a vast chunk of the...

Blog

04.25.13

Hollywood in China—What’s the Price of Admission?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, YING ZHU & others

Last week, DreamWorks Animation (DWA), the Hollywood studio behind the worldwide blockbuster Kung Fu Panda films, announced that it will cooperate with the China Film Group (CFG) on an animated feature called Tibet Code, an adventure story based on a series of recent Chinese...

Blog

04.23.13

How Would You Spend (the Next) $300 Million on U.S.-...

ORVILLE SCHELL & MICHAEL KULMA

Orville Schell:When Stephen A. Schwarzman announced his new $300 million program aimed at sending foreign scholars to Tsinghua University in Beijing the way Rhodes Scholarship, set up by the businessman and statesman Cecil Rhodes in 1902 began sending American scholars to Oxford...

Blog

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, BARRY NAUGHTON & others

Slower Chinese GDP growth is not a bad thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. But it’s not happening for the right reasons.Instead of reining in credit to try to curb over-investment, Chinese authorities have allowed a renewed explosion in credit in an effort to fuel...

Blog

04.16.13

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press?

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & others

To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.  In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda Department.  That’s the first...

Blog

04.11.13

Why Is Chinese Soft Power Such a Hard Sell?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, DONALD CLARKE & others

Jeremy Goldkorn:Chairman Mao Zedong said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and he knew a thing or two about power, both hard and soft. If you have enough guns, you have respect. Money is the same: if you have enough cash, you can buy guns, and respect.Israel and Saudi...

Blog

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What...

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & others

Jeremy Goldkorn:On March 22, before the foreign media or Apple themselves seemed to have grasped the seriousness of the CCTV attacks on the Californian behemoth, I wrote a post on Danwei.com that concluded:“The signs are clear that regulators and establishment media would both...

Blog

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, DAMIEN MA & others

Patrick Chovanec:This week’s news that Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement gave a renewed boost to excited chatter over the rising influence of China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB). The belief, in many quarters, is that the renminbi is well on...

Blog

03.26.13

Can China Transform Africa?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & others

Jeremy Goldkorn:The question is all wrong. China is already transforming Africa, the question is how China is transforming Africa, not whether it can. From the “China shops”—small stores selling cheap clothing, bags, and kitchenware—that have become ubiquitous in Southern...

Blog

03.19.13

China’s New Leaders Say They Want to Fight Corruption...

ANDREW J. NATHAN & OUYANG BIN

In his first press conference after taking office as China's new premier, Li Keqiang declared that one of his top priorities would be to fight corruption, because “Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and water.” This put Li on message...

Blog

03.15.13

Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure...

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ALEXA OLESEN & others

Dorinda Elliott:China’s recent decision to phase out the agency that oversees the one-child policy has raised questions about whether the policy itself will be dropped—and whether it was a success or a failure.Aside from the burdens only children feel when it comes...

Blog

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All...

SUN YUNFAN, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

This week, the ChinaFile Conversation is a call for reactions to an article about China's current generation gap, written by James Palmer, a Beijing-based historian, author, and Global Times editor. The article, first published by Aeon in the U.K., “The Balinghou: Chinese...

Blog

03.08.13

Will China’s Property Market Crash, and So What If It...

DORINDA ELLIOTT & BILL BISHOP

Dorinda Elliott:At this week’s National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed that the government kept housing prices from rising too fast. Really? I wonder what my 28-year-old Shanghainese friend Robert thinks about that. He and his fiancée could never...

Blog

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign...

ORVILLE SCHELL, SUSAN SHIRK & others

Orville Schell:What may end up being most significant about the new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea, which China seems willing to sign, may not be what it amounts to in terms of denuclearizing the DPRK, but what it...

Blog

03.01.13

Is America’s Door Really Open to China’s Investment...

DANIEL H. ROSEN, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

Daniel Rosen:There have not been many new topics in U.S.-China economic relations over the past decade: the trade balance, offshoring of jobs, Chinese holding of U.S. government debt, whether China’s currency is undervalued and intellectual property protection problems have...

Blog

02.27.13

How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

ELIZABETH ECONOMY, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

Elizabeth Economy:The environment is center stage once again in China. A Chinese lawyer has requested the findings of a national survey on soil pollution from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and been denied on the grounds that the information is a state secret. (The...

Blog

02.22.13

Will Investment in China Grow or Shrink?

DONALD CLARKE & DAVID SCHLESINGER

Donald Clarke:I don’t have the answer as to whether investment in China will grow or shrink, but I do have a few suggestions for how to think about the question. First, we have to clarify why we want to know the answer to this question: what do we think it will tell us? This...

Blog

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, JAMES FALLOWS & others

Jonathan Landreth:With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor Elizabeth Economy on the road, I turned to her colleague Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Segal said that “the time for naming and...

Blog

02.15.13

U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do?

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ELIZABETH ECONOMY & others

Dorinda Elliott:On a recent trip to China, I heard a lot of scary talk of potential war over the disputed Diaoyu Islands—this from both senior intellectual types and also just regular people, from an elderly calligraphy expert to a middle-aged history professor. People seemed...

Blog

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How...

WINSTON LORD, TAI MING CHEUNG & others

China is increasingly frustrated with North Korea and may even see more clearly that its actions only serve to increase allied unity, stimulate Japanese militarism and accelerate missile defense. For all these reasons the U.S. should lean on Beijing to—at last—not only help...

Blog

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to...

ANDREW J. NATHAN, SUSAN SHIRK & others

Andrew Nathan:The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping seems to be making some bold opening moves with its attacks on corruption and the announcement on February 5 of plans to reduce the polarization of incomes.  Does this mean Xi is leading China in new directions? ...

Blog

02.06.13

Airpocalypse Now: China’s Tipping Point?

ALEX WANG, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in airport smoking lounges. At its worst, Beijing air quality has approached levels only seen in the United States during wildfires.All of the comparisons to London, Los Angeles, and New...

Blog

02.01.13

China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost?

JAMES FALLOWS, DONALD CLARKE & others

James Fallows: Here are some initial reactions on the latest hacking news.We call this the “latest” news because I don’t think anyone, in China or outside, is actually surprised. In my own experience in China, which is limited compared with many of yours, I’ve seen the...

Blog

01.30.13

China, Japan and the Islands: What Do the Tensions Mean...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & others

How did the Diaoyu, Spratly, and Paracel islands come to replace Taiwan as the main source of tension for maritime Asia? And how are we to explain the fact that China’s foreign policy toward its Asian neighbors has now morphed from such slogans as: “Keep our heads down, and...

DISCUSSION

The Chinese Miracle?

JONATHAN D. SPENCE

Over the last few months the news and reportage about China have become almost incomprehensibly divided between two points of view. According to one set of reports, China is now confirmed as an economic “colossus,” shaking off all the trammels of the past, yearning to host...

Is There Enough Chinese Food?

VACLAV SMIL

1.Many Americans think they know something about Chinese food. But very few know anything about food in China, about the ways in which it is grown, stored, distributed, eaten, and wasted, about its effects on the country’s politics, and about its importance to the rest of the...

Room at the Top

PICO IYER

The last time I was in the Himalayas, I met a young, highly Westernized Tibetan who, misled perhaps by my Indian features (born in England, I’ve never lived in the subcontinent), started talking to me about the strange ways of the exotic foreigners he saw all around him. “...