CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

Posts by Category

Showing posts for "Health"

Poison Air, Dead Pigs, and Cancer Rice: The Reform China Really Needs

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Cleaning workers retrieve the carcasses of pigs from a branch of Huangpu River in Shanghai on March 10, 2013. Cleaning workers retrieve the carcasses of pigs from a branch of Huangpu River in Shanghai on March 10, 2013. (Stringer China/Courtesy Reuters)

The bad news doesn’t stop coming. First, Beijing residents learned that breathing their air on a daily basis was akin to living in a smoking lounge. Then Guangdong residents learned that Hunan rice sold in their province in 2009 was contaminated with cadmium, which is carcinogenic and can cause severe pain in joints and the spine. And just this past weekend, Shanghai residents watched more than three thousand diseased pigs float down part of the city’s Huangpu River. Read more »

Choking to Death: Health Consequences of Air Pollution in China

by Yanzhong Huang
Chinese commuters make their way in heavy smog in Beijing Chinese commuters make their way in heavy smog in Beijing (Reinhard Krause/Courtesy Reuters).

In the past few months, I wrote about the food the Chinese eat, and, more recently, Liz Economy wrote about the water the Chinese drink. But the air that the Chinese breathe is now a major concern. As the nearly 3,000 delegates of the National People’s Congress (NPC) arrive in Beijing to attend the yearly event to formally endorse nominees for key government leadership posts and important national policies, it would be hard for them to ignore the poor air quality in the country’s capital. Last Thursday morning, readings near Tiananmen Square measured the concentration of PM2.5—fine particles in the air that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and are considered dangerous because they tend to penetrate the gas exchange regions of the lungs—at 469 micrograms per cubic meter, which corresponds to a U.S. EPA Air Quality Index reading of 479 (the scale stops at 500). Anything above 301 is considered “hazardous” in that it can cause “serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly,” and there is a “serious risk of respiratory effects in general population.” The PM2.5 levels in other famously polluted cities pale in comparison to those in Beijing; for instance, the highest PM2.5 level in a 24-period recorded in Los Angeles was 43 micrograms per cubic meter. Read more »

Ten Years after SARS: Five Myths to Unravel

by Yanzhong Huang
Observers look out of windows as "patients" walk past during a SARS outbreak drill in Hong Kong November 19, 2004. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters) Observers look out of windows as "patients" walk past during a SARS outbreak drill in Hong Kong November 19, 2004. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, I was in Beijing for an international conference while the city experienced record levels of air pollution. I had a feeling of déjà vu as I saw people wearing face masks. Ten years ago, at the height of the SARS epidemic, a sea of people in white masks—most of them scared migrant workers and university students—flocked to train and bus stations and airports in the hope of fleeing the city. Then, face masks were a symbol of the fear of a deadly and seemingly omnipresent virus that was responsible for 349 deaths and over 5,300 infections in China alone. As the first severe infectious disease to emerge in the twenty-first century, SARS caused the most serious socio-political crisis for the Chinese leadership since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Read more »

Presidential Inbox: Integrating Global Health Into the Pivot Strategy

by Yanzhong Huang
U.S. President Obama is followed by his staff as he leaves the Plenary session of the 21st ASEAN and East Asia summit in Phnom Penh (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Obama is followed by his staff as he leaves the Plenary session of the 21st ASEAN and East Asia summit in Phnom Penh (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters).

Mr. President, as you begin your second term, you and your Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping both face the challenge of building a mature and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship.  There is no need to belabor the strategic importance of the Sino-American relations for the United States.  Indeed, one may argue that it is precisely the strategic dynamics driven by China’s rise that led to your critical decision to pivot to Asia. Read more »

Getting at the Heart of China’s Public Health Crisis

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A nurse gives an infected patient medicine as she lies in her bed at the HIV/AIDS ward of Beijing YouAn Hospital on December 1, 2011. A nurse gives an infected patient medicine as she lies in her bed at the HIV/AIDS ward of Beijing YouAn Hospital on December 1, 2011. (David Gray/Reuters)

Trying to wrap one’s arms around China today is a significant challenge. It is a global power with a growing economy, rising military, and expanding diplomatic reach. Yet there continues to be a gnawing sense in and outside China that all is not quite right. Whether it is the 180,000 protests annually, the growing flight of capital and people to the West, or the potentially ruinous impact of corruption on the Communist Party’s legitimacy, uncertainty about China and its future is much greater than the country’s impressive global standing might suggest. Read more »

Why Is It in China’s Interest to Promote Health Security in Southeast Asia?

by Yanzhong Huang
Dead ducks are hung at a farm in the outskirts of Phnom Penh December 17, 2008. Cambodia began culling poultry near its capital on Wednesday, officials said, five days after a young man from the area was confirmed with H5N1 bird flu by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the government (Chor Sokunthea/Courtesy Reuters). Dead ducks are hung at a farm in the outskirts of Phnom Penh December 17, 2008. Cambodia began culling poultry near its capital on Wednesday, officials said, five days after a young man from the area was confirmed with H5N1 bird flu by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the government (Chor Sokunthea/Courtesy Reuters).

If there is a buzzword one needs to know to understand U.S. foreign policy toward Asia in 2013, it is “rebalancing,” or in the words of President Obama “pivoting.” Rebalancing is of course not solely about military redeployment. Indeed, a critical element of the U.S. rebalancing strategy in the region is to nurture partnerships with countries and international institutions to address common threats in areas such as regional health security. Read more »

Why Haven’t Chinese Leaders Acted Decisively to Reduce Tobacco Use?

by Yanzhong Huang
A visitor dressed as a Red Army soldier smokes as he poses for a picture in Jinggangshan, Jiangxi province on September 20, 2012. (Carlos Barria / Courtesy Reuters) A visitor dressed as a Red Army soldier smokes as he poses for a picture in Jinggangshan, Jiangxi province on September 20, 2012. (Carlos Barria / Courtesy Reuters)

In mid-October, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev voiced support for a proposed ban on smoking in public places by 2015. “The government is not at war with smokers,” he said, “but we are making a stand against smoking.”

Compared to Russia, where about a third of the population smokes, China has “the biggest tobacco problem in the world.” As Cheng Li pointed out in a recent publication, China is “the world’s biggest tobacco producer, largest cigarette consumer, and gravest victim of the smoking-related health crisis.” Read more »

The Compulsory Licensing of Pharmaceuticals: Will China Follow in India’s Footsteps?

by Yanzhong Huang
An official poses with packets of Sorafenib Tosylate tablets inside the head office of Natco in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad March 13, 2012. (Krishnendu Halder/Courtesy Reuters) An official poses with packets of Sorafenib Tosylate tablets inside the head office of Natco in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad March 13, 2012. (Krishnendu Halder/Courtesy Reuters)

Compulsory licensing is emerging as an additional mechanism by which developing countries can make the treatment of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) more affordable to their populace. Under the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, compulsory licensing, which occurs when a government licenses the use of a patented innovation without the consent of the patent title holder, is a legally recognized means to overcome barriers in accessing affordable medicines. Read more »

China’s Food Safety Crisis: How Serious Is the Problem?

by Yanzhong Huang
An employee works at the production line of an edible oil company in Sanhe, Hebei April 12, 2011. An employee works at the production line of an edible oil company in Sanhe, Hebei April 12, 2011 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

Last month in the 2012 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals, China’s women’s volleyball team fell to countries that did not even qualify for the 2008 Olympics, where China won Bronze. The coach blamed his team’s abysmal performance on their veggie diet, saying that the athletes had not had any meat for three weeks.  The players were certainly not vegetarians: they abstained from meat lest contamination of chemicals such as clenbuterol interfere with their urine tests. The excuse was not as lousy as it initially sounded: early this year, China’s State General Administration of Sports issued a document forbidding its athletes from consuming meat outside of official training facilities. Read more »

China’s Population Policy—An Exchange Between Edwin Winckler and Yanzhong Huang

by Yanzhong Huang
A young Chinese mother watches her child in front of a sign reading "birth control is a basic state policy of our country" in Beijing on July 23, 2002. A young Chinese mother watches her child in front of a sign reading "birth control is a basic state policy of our country" in Beijing on July 23, 2002. (Guang Niu / Courtesy Reuters)

Dr. Yanzhong Huang is Senior Fellow for Global Health and the newest writer for Asia Unbound. His first post, “Time for China to Abandon Its Population Control Policy,” attracted significant attention, including a thoughtful response from Edwin A. Winckler, a Senior Research Scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University. Here we have posted both Dr. Winckler’s commentary and a new response from Dr. Huang. We hope you enjoy their discussion.

-Elizabeth Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies

Read more »