|Backs to the Wall in China|
There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who freely
admit to making a mistake immediately after they realize it, and try to avoid
it in the future. And there are those who try to cover mistakes up, and then
lie about it even when the error (and the lies) are exposed. It takes a lot of
confidence, and sometimes courage to admit to making mistakes, and many people
think that it is a sign of good upbringing. People will carry into adulthood the strategy which worked best in their childhood.
course, are notorious for covering things up, and countries with the biggest
economies) could be expected to cover up more than freer political systems. The most
famous example is the Soviet Union's nuclear
reactor meltdown in Chernobyl - the entire Soviet bureaucracy simply went into
cover-up and denial mode, in spite of the fact that it was quite obvious that
even the legendary Soviet information suppression machine was no match for a
disaster of that scale.
Now it comes as no surprise to some to find that the Chinese government has been
lying again. This time they have been lying about the number of Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) cases in the country. Previously we were told that
only 4 had died in China, suddenly the number has been 'revised' up to 20. And
the previously 44 cases has been 'revised' upward to 248.
When the SARS outbreak looked like it was small and controllable, the media control could contain
the facts. But then the outbreak spread to other countries, and the World
Health Organization (WHO) became involved. For a while the Chinese just kept
lying and blocked WHO's access to information. Eventually though, the pressure
became too much, and the truth had to be told.
Chinese Authorities are still denying any wrong doing - blaming
'bureaucratic inefficiencies' and 'poor communication' for the 'incomplete
information' available. But in a concession to popular expectations of government
accountability they found some scapegoats, sacking the Health Minister and the
Mayor of Beijing.
Seeing junior politicians falling on their swords to protect the careers of
more senior politicians is something we normally only expect in enlightened
democracies like Australia.
In a country where telling a lie - any lie - has been safer than telling the
truth, this is a significant shift. Now it seems, even telling a lie may not
save you. How can Chinese bureaucracy function with that level of uncertainty?