The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome crisis underscores the paradoxes of the PRC today and its engagement with the outside world. SARS illustrates the interdependence of China’s health, both economic and public, with that of its neighbors and the wider world. It highlights the Chinese regime’s increased but limited transparency and amenability to international pressure, as well as the challenges the Chinese leadership faces stemming from the country’s uneven development and partial reform. The regime’s conflicting approaches to SARS indicate growing responsiveness and responsibility but also the persistence of pre-reform-style attitudes.
These lessons are important at a time when Beijing has embarked on a protracted leadership transition, is addressing potentially fundamental political reform issues, and is ready to deepen its already extensive integration with the global economy and play a greater role in world affairs. The SARS crisis reminds us of the still transitional and ambivalent character of the Chinese revolution launched a quarter-century ago under the banner of ‘‘reform and opening to the outside world.’’