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Swine Flu and a China-Mexico Brouhaha

Posted by: Dexter Roberts on May 05, 2009

An airplane from Mexico is landing in China today in hopes of beginning to unravel a diplomatic brouhaha involving the two countries. After first stopping in Shanghai, it reportedly will fly to Beijing and Guangzhou, to pick up several dozen Mexican citizens who have been residing or visiting these cities.

Why the special plane to airlift out the foreign nationals in China? Tempers are high following the controversial decision by Beijing to quarantine Mexican citizens, including those who haven’t been in Mexico in years, in response to fears about the spreading swine flu. Following the discovery over the weekend that a Mexican national who transited through Shanghai on his way to Hong Kong was infected with the flu, China took what some are calling an over-the-top response: China swept up dozens of Mexicans as well as Chinese that had come in contact with them, holding them quarantined in hotels, in some cases against their will.

While China says the response was necessary to ensure safety—and has painful memories about what happened when it reacted slowly to the SARS virus in 2003—Mexico clearly disagrees. In a Sunday night television broadcast Mexican president Felipe Calderon referred to discriminatory practices of some countries as based on “ignorance and misinformation.” And without naming China, Calderon said his country was handling the flu in an open way, unlike other nations during earlier health crises—a comment that pretty clearly was a reference to China and its initially secretive handling of the SARS crisis.

China for its part is not only defending the necessity of its decision, but has gone out of its way to assure the world that it treated the Mexican citizens well. According to a deputy director in the Beijing municipal health bureau, they were not only given the best rooms in the hotels they were held in, but sent fruit and flowers every day. “The Mexicans said they were grateful for our work. They said they feel it was understandable to be quarantined as it was a necessary method to avoid the spread of the virus,” Deng Xiaohong said.

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Reader Comments


May 6, 2009 03:43 AM

Good for the Chinese. Who can fault them for protecting their population. Let us hope though that this represents a change to the previous policy of denial and cover-up we have seen to previous health scares in the country.


May 6, 2009 05:43 AM

The stakes are too high. China has some of the most densely populated areas and the largest number of hogs in the entire world. It will potentially be far more disastrous for China than other countries if either human or farm animals get infected there. It's better to be save than sorry.


May 6, 2009 10:48 AM

All Mex people and the world are the victims of U.S's AAA rated toxic farms operated in their country.


May 6, 2009 12:37 PM

First and foremost, Chinese government acts fully in line with the recommendations of WHO in taking strict preventive measures to stop the spread of a potential deadly epidemic. Chinese government not only has the duty to protect its own citizens but also the world population by aggressive limiting the disease from spreading even further.
During the SARS scare, all oversea Chinese restaurants have been discriminated against. Therefore I've full sympathy for all Mexican citizens for what they have suffered on their recent overseas stays.
However the Mexican Ambassador to Beijing has falsely claimed on 4/27 that this Swine Flu came from China even though there was no detection of any Swine Flu in China yet and no pork meat ever been exported from China to Mexico. This baseless claim was later denied by both WHO official and Chinese Foreign ministry as reported by Canadian news, The Toronto Star,
Today as one of the first countries that offer medical and disaster aids, China has already donated five millions US dollars to Mexico for fighting against this crisis. I’m wondering if Beijing also wants to send a strong signal that the days of singling out China for every problem in the world is over!


May 6, 2009 03:26 PM

CHINA, ready to lead...?

I have spent the last month travelling around ASIA to try to find an answer to this question. Just now, when we are in the middle of a global crisis, with almost all foundations of economy in danger, I wanted to answer myself about the role that each country is going to take to lead the world out of this recession period.

I travelled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei and Seoul. I spent a certain time reading the local press, involving myself with their domestic issues, and watching and asking about the role of Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and South Korea in the future recovery process.

China latests are focused on the opening of Shanghai Stock exchange listings to foreign companies, but still with the limitation of doing it only with yuan currency, and still being not convertible.
Hong Kong, who belongs to China, but with a S.A.R. ( special administrative regime ) is deciding now its own future, since Shanghai and itself must now compete to become the financial centre of the "new" China.

Taipei celebrates that for the first time in six decades, a mainland company, China Mobile is due to acquire a 20% stake in a local communications carrier, breaking with this step, the so long disputes among these 2 asian states. Nevertheless, some old nationalists from Taiwan see into this movement from mainland, the challenge of a new adhesion process, similar to the one carried with Hong Kong.

And finally, Seoul is focused on recovery the way they best know. That is, working tough and smart to become again what two years ago it really was... an still unknown, but highly effective and productive capitalist economy.

So, the answer to my question was not easy, but I think I can clarify some things that really matters to a global economy world.

China strategy along the years has been to manufacture goods at a low work labour cost, and sell them mainly to the US and Europe. Now, with 1,3 billion people living in the mainland, they realise that their real market may be inside, may be domestic. But to go along with this change in the way exports are handled, is not an easy task... but you can see already some interesting movements, such as the recently signed collaboration with India, to get a chunk into the OUTSOURCING market, as well as, the already mentioned opening of Shanghai Stock index to foreign companies.
So the path seems to be built ahead, but still with critical issues such as if yuan will become the reference currency, if it will be flexible against other international currencies, or even maybe, if China and its allies decide to launch a takeover bid against dollar and euro world supremacy.

My opinion resides on the idea that in a not so long future, we will start looking at Shanghai index closings the same way we do it with Wall Street now.

If China converges into a more open performance, USA supremacy as the first economy in the world may be in danger.

China will try to joint Hong Kong current power and international presence, with Shanghai newest challenges. At the same time, it will break old and stupid disputes with Taiwan and even South Korea, to walk along a new asian world, capable of assuming the role of leading it.

India will have to decide if it goes alone in this new era, with its 1,1 billion people and therefore, their impressive economic and social potential... or decides to take part with the US or with CHINA. That decision is going to become critical for India in the very near future.

But, for sure, we do not expect China president to become a worldwide "prime time TV star" the same way the US does with its presidents. We will never know if China president has bought a dog called "Bob" to his daughters... we even won´t know if he has kids at home,... or if his wife is dating another men ...

We must expect a new role, focused on discretion, hard work, no discussions, but highly effective and consumer oriented strategies.

If the US unveils its secret CIA files, ... China will continue with its secrecy in domestic critical matters.
If the US continues fighting muslims in Afghanistan, China will stretch its ties in a peaceful way with its long time disputed neighbors, trying to consolidate its presence in Asia.
If the US continues with prime time interviews, China will present only specific topics of its politicians activities.

This does not mean OPEN economies vs CLOSED ones, but it means, to be focused on real issues and leave marketing or branding for others.

Jose Luis Revilla Escudero
WW Shares, Inc


May 6, 2009 05:40 PM

Finally, at least there's a nation in the world that is not afraid of the illegal aliens as well as the universally unheard political influence of their compadres and places its own citizenry above all. Mexicans and their President should be much more cautious in labeling Chinese action [ignorance and misinformation].
Those words coming out of a nation that sings to its kids a racist song describing Chinese people as dirty or filthy is hypocrisy at its best.
Also, I believe the Chinese are not footing the bill for travel costs of said Mexicans returning to their homeland. Lord knows the U.S. taxpayers [SUCKERS or gringos as routinely referred by their good Mexican neighbors] have taken that responsibility forever.

Kin Hung

May 7, 2009 05:29 AM

JEB:" Those words coming out of a nation that sings to its kids a racist song describing Chinese people as dirty or filthy is hypocrisy at its best."

Can you elaborate?

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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