Joseph Ehrlich, a god-fearing American Jew and critic of the American and Israeli governments, is a machine intelligence analyst. His theories can be bizarre or brilliant. Immediately after SARS erupted, he said it was a biological weapon self-inflicted by China to stop the post-Iraq advance of American-dominated globalisation.
A few days later, a Russian medical expert, Professor Sergei Kolesnikov, said that SARS could be a biological weapon developed by China. The virus, he claimed, can only be produced in laboratory conditions. From its quick spread, he inferred it was man-made. There is no dearth of people darkly perceiving the cia behind SARS.
The most credible explanation came from Elizabeth Rosenthal in the nyt. She gave a blow-by-blow account of how the disease surfaced mid-November in the horribly unhygienic conditions of Guangzhou, was mishandled by the primitive Chinese healthcare authorities, and became an epidemic because China's political system lacks accountability and transparency.
If SARS were self-inflicted, it would indicate a silent death-struggle within the Chinese establishment. It is conceivable that hardliners and pla elements would like to reverse China's liberalisation policies. The epidemic started from China's military hospitals. The Asian Development Bank estimates the economic loss to exceed $16 billion. The political cost could be heavier.
Both China's health minister and the Beijing mayor had to resign. Prime minister Wen Jaibao is with his back to the wall. "I'm daring to face the whole world on this issue," he said desperately. Along with President Hu Jintao, he criticised the military for its non-cooperation and initial cover-up. Was this really veiled criticism of former president Jiang Zemin? The latter refused to relinquish chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (CMC). He remains China's voice in the world. Power flows from the barrel of a gun.
China is one nation with two systems, one in Hong Kong, another in Beijing. But global liberalisation and totalitarian rule are incompatible. China will have to choose one system. The wrong choice could break China. Whatever its origins, SARS potentially is the catalyst that could change China forever.
By ships, by planes, by cars,
We try to run from SARS,
Before we taint the stars,
Can't we shift to Mars?