Posted by: Dexter Roberts on May 5, 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.