September 15, 2003


AIDS: Catastrophe builds in Asia (Ed Susman, 9/15/2003, UPI)

China, the largest nation in Asia and the most populous in the world, also is in the midst of an HIV/AIDS crisis.

"The epidemic in China shows no signs of abating," a UNAIDS report published in December 2002 stated. "Official estimates put the number of people living with HIV in China at 1 million in mid-2002. Unless effective responses rapidly take hold, a total of 10 million Chinese will have acquired HIV by the end of the decade." Put another way, 10 million people is equivalent to the entire population of Belgium.

The more you know about China the less plausible is the notion of them as an eventual superpower rival of the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2003 8:53 PM

Put yet another way, 10 million is the population of one collective farm,

or yet another way, less than 1% of the population of China.

I happen to agree that China has no future, but there were periods in which more -- considerably more -- than 1% of the US had a fatal venereal disease, and we're still here.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 15, 2003 9:53 PM

We've lost less than half a million over the course of the AIDs era out of a population approaching 300 million. What's that .3%? And we reacted reasonably aggressively.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2003 9:58 PM

Well, the U.S. currently has nearly a million infected with HIV, so while China now has 0.08% of its population infected, the U.S. has 0.3% of its population infected, 4 times greater proportionally.

Maybe China will surpass us -- but it's easy to generate scare-extrapolations, and they're best taken with a grain of salt. A good indicator of the state of Chinese public health will be how bad SARS is this winter.

Posted by: pj at September 15, 2003 10:39 PM

Well, you've got to wonder where those number came from. If they came from the Chinese gov't, they're probably understated by a factor of who knows what. The reaction to the SARS virus last winter certainly didn't inspire confidence.

Posted by: Twn at September 15, 2003 11:36 PM

Dictatorships tend to downplay crisis beyond their control because it conflicts with the preception of their own infalability they try to project to the public. So initial reactions to health crisis like AIDS or SARS are to cover those problems up even in the face of mounting illnesses and deaths, just as the Soviets' original reaction to Chernobyl was to cover that up to preserve their own image of an all-knowing government, even as radiation detectors went wild all over northern and central Europe.

Admitting the problem means doing something about it, and if the effort falls short, the obvious instinct of the population is to find someone else who can do the job better. Only when the situation reaches a crisis mode do totalitarian governments finally reach out for help. China did that with SARS, but since AIDS is a far slower acting disease, they're not at that stage yet.

Posted by: John at September 16, 2003 2:20 AM

Yes. They'd rather lose millions of people than lose face.

They haven't quite figured out, it seems, that there are certain cultures around the world that have a problem with this kind of behavior and that it's a bit tricky covering up these sorts of things.

Seems they'd rather be culturally insensitive than lose face.

Which doesn't sound all that smart, given the global realities that exist.

Seems they'd rather be stupid than lose face....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 16, 2003 9:01 AM

Just wait until the Three Gorges Dam begins to back up with silt. Who will they call then? Bechtel?

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 16, 2003 9:35 AM

The Chicoms actually have a pretty fair record in public health. Generalizing on such matters, especially across cultures, is dangerous.

Dictatorships do reflexively suppress bad news, but health is a special field.

Gadafi, not otherwise progressive, dealt with malaria, which is more than the Italians did when they were there, or Idris.

When US and Norwegian NGOs eradicated guinea worm throughout most of the Koran Belt, they did so with no help from the various governments, except Iran, which has the best public health service among the Muslims.

Chicom moralism probably will interfere with any sensible efforts to deal with Aids, just as American moralism has here.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 16, 2003 2:49 PM

Tens of millions of Chinese needlessly died during a famine under Mao. How's that for a "pretty fair record on public health"?

Posted by: James Haney at September 16, 2003 5:33 PM

You don't go from 180 million people swept by famine to 1.2 billion people eating 2,800 kCal/day without making some improvements in public health.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 16, 2003 6:46 PM

Although it does seem improbable that China, in her current incarnation, will become a hyper-power, she is ALREADY a "super"-power. In the decades to come, with the US' willing help, i.e., trade, China will become far more powerful.

IF China is successful in launching humans into orbit, as they hope to do next year, they will step onto the top tier of world power.

(Actually, if one considers Chinese history, it seems IMPOSSIBLE that they'd reach hyper-power status, without a cultural transplant).

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 17, 2003 8:02 AM


Using WWII technology to get to space means little except that they had the money to burn.

Meanwhile, it's a big factory with low priced laborers who assemble parts to make things that we think up. They're a glorified colony.

Posted by: oj at September 17, 2003 8:41 AM

I'm with Orrin.

At present, and for some time to come, all the Asian economies are in thrall to the US. If we close our markets, they collapse overnight.

If we close our markets, Wal-Mart collapses overnight, but the rest of the country suffers only slightly.

When the Asian currencies imploded about 5 years ago, the US economy didn't even notice.

At some point, East Asia grows to the point in which intraAsian trade substitutes for American trade, but that won't happen anytime soon.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 17, 2003 3:31 PM

Regarding the Asian near-implosion: the US economy may have barely noticed, but you can bet that Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin burned a lot of midnight oil dealing with it. Just like the failure of that hedge fund (Long Term something) about 3 or 4 years ago. The nation as a whole doesn't see it, doesn't know about it, and won't understand it - but such things start tidal waves.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 18, 2003 12:01 AM

One thing that George Bush Sr. gets too little credit for is how smoothly the S&L fiasco was handled on his watch.

Posted by: oj at September 18, 2003 12:12 AM

Good point about the S&Ls. And people went to jail, too.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 18, 2003 9:46 AM

Actually, Long-Term Credit Management is back in business and making money hand over fist again.

It got caught in what my physics adviser calls a seldenkrise, a concept I'm still trying to understand.

The idea was good, but it broke down at the margins.

It's true enough that you have not seen any reports of the comeback of LTCM.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 18, 2003 4:17 PM