I came to attend this conference in the spirit of candid responsibility, trust and cooperation. I will brief ASEAN leaders on the SARS situation in China, major experience and lessons in the prevention and treatment of SARS, and the measures taken by the Chinese government. I hope that mutual understanding and trust between China and ASEAN countries will be promoted and cooperation between us enhanced through this conference.
The SARS epidemic currently spreading in some countries and regions poses a grave threat to life and health of mankind. SARS is a brand new contagious disease, yet to be fully understood to mankind. There is neither a conclusive method of diagnosis, nor an effective cure, nor a full understanding of how this disease spreads. Given our huge and highly mobile population and our lack of experience with controlling a sudden epidemic, the country is still faced with a serious situation despite a great deal of work. Right now, places like Guangdong, where SARS hit rather early, still see a few new cases. The number of SARS cases in Beijing, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia is rising noticeably. The situation has not been brought fully under control and there is the tendency of spreading to most provinces of China.
The Chinese Government is a highly responsible government, ready to face difficulties squarely and putting the health, safety and life of the people above everything else. We have, and will continue to take resolute steps in an effort to turn the situation around.
First, strengthening prevention across the board to contain the spread of disease. The Chinese government has made SARS a statutory epidemic under the country's legislation, and established an open and transparent system for epidemic reporting and news briefing. We make daily report of SARS statistics to the WHO, and publish it to the communities in the meantime. By ensuring early detection, early reporting, early quarantine and early treatment, we have done everything possible to control infection source. We have imposed strict quarantine and prevention measures in public transit systems, major locations and ports of exit and entry. Guarding against cross infection in hospitals, we have subjected all confirmed SARS patients and suspect patients to quarantine and treatment, and all contaminated areas and articles to isolation and prevention measures. People having had close contact with them are quarantined for medical observation. Units and places identified as epidemic high-risk areas have been isolated in accordance with law. Besides, we have conducted publicity campaigns on disease prevention to increase the citizens' awareness and capability for self-protection so that prevention can be ensured with mass participation.
Second, going all out to treat SARS patients and setting up the SARS funds. China's provinces, regions and municipalities have designated special hospitals and enlarged medical facilities to bring timely treatment to SARS patients. Efforts were made to ensure adequate supply of medicine and improve hospital facilities. The central government has allocated RMB 2 billion yuan for the establishment of a SARS fund, to be used mainly for the treatment of SARS patients from rural background or needy urban families and for emergency upgrading of county-level hospitals in the poor areas of central and western China and their purchases of SARS-related medical equipment. The localities have also made special funds available for SARS prevention and treatment. We have paid close attention to SARS control in rural areas and taken all necessary measures, including free medical care for rural-based SARS patients and on-spot treatment for farmer patients who hold jobs in cities so as to prevent SARS from spreading to the countryside.
Thirdly, establishing an epidemic contingency mechanism and enhancing the capacity for emergency management. We lost no time in establishing a national public health contingency response mechanism, a disease monitor and data collection network and an ascertaining network of laboratories. The central government has allocated RMB 3.5 billion yuan for infrastructure development of a national disease control system, together with other special expenditures for the construction of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fourthly, stepping up critical SARS research and exploring effective methods of diagnosis and treatment. We have mobilized multi-disciplinary experts across the country to look for the cause of the SARS epidemic, and study new methods of diagnosis and treatment. We have developed a fast diagnostic method and are trying to improve it and testing it clinically. Efforts are also made to research and develop drugs and equipment for SARS prevention and treatment. The central government has provided special fund for SARS research and development.
Fifthly, increasing cooperation with the international community and drawing on others' successful experience. We have worked hard to promote cooperation with the WHO and other international organizations, discussing with them ways to treat SARS patients, control the epidemic and investigate the cause of the disease. We value the useful advice by WHO experts after their field inspections and have acted upon them. We welcome the understanding, support, desires and gestures for cooperation from the international community on China's SARS prevention efforts. We will keep up our cooperation and exchanges with the WHO and other countries.
China's central government attaches great importance to the SARS situation in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. We are deeply concerned about the health, life and safety of our compatriots there. We have set up a SARS-control contact mechanism with Hong Kong and Macao. Mr. Tung Chee Hwa, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is here as a principal member of the Chinese delegation. The central government will take all necessary measures to help Hong Kong contain the disease. We are fully prepared to provide Hong Kong with medical supplies and nurses at times of need, and all the expenses incurred will be born by the central government. In the meantime, we have actively conducted various forms of cooperation with the Taiwan region in the areas of epidemic prevention and treatment.
We are deeply aware of the arduous, complex and relapsing nature of SARS prevention and treatment and are fully prepared to confront it in all aspects. The Chinese Government is confident that, given its perseverance, this colossal scourge of SARS will be smashed in the end.
All diseases, particularly new infectious diseases of unknown causes, are common enemies to entire mankind. The transnational spread of SARS poses a common challenge to the world and to our region in particular. It can only be effectively countered by the cooperated efforts at the regional and international levels. The Chinese Government will, as always, endeavor to come to grips with the SARS problem with a very responsible attitude, just like what it did with the Asian financial crisis. Out of its sincere desire for closer coordination and cooperation with the ASEAN countries, the Chinese Government wishes to make the following suggestions:
First, to establish a reporting mechanism with respect to epidemic and disease prevention and treatment. We should move immediately to establish a China-ASEAN reporting network on SARS situation, treatment and research, timely brief each other on the epidemic situation in accordance with mutually agreed standards, rules and methods, share each other's successful experience and R&D achievements in SARS control and step up bilateral communication, consultation and coordination in SARS prevention and treatment.
Second, to carry out exchanges of experience and go for cooperated SARS research. While suggesting a high level international seminar in May for the two sides to compare notes on this issue, we are ready to play host to this event. In the meantime, we suggest that cooperated research and personnel training programs be arranged in such areas as the patterns of SARS transmission, SARS nosogenesis and SARS clinical diagnosis. China has decided to pledge RMB 10 million yuan in a special fund to support a variety of bilateral programs with the ASEAN countries.
Third, to accelerate the bilateral health cooperation process. The 10+1 health cooperation mechanism should be established as soon as possible, focusing on SARS prevention and treatment for the time being and holding the 10+1 health ministers' meeting at an appropriate time.
Fourth, to coordinate the border exit and entry control measures. It is recommended that competent officials in charge of border exit and entry control meet at an early date to coordinate respective national policies and measures so as to alleviate the impact of SARS on normal personnel exchanges between the two sides.
Fifth, to do everything possible to minimize the adverse effect of SARS. SARS has brought about a multi-faceted adverse impact on the region's economic and social development. We propose for a China-ASEAN workshop to look into possible counter-measures. I would like to mention here that, as SARS control makes progress in China, we will gradually resume group travel programs to ASEAN countries and take effective health measures accordingly.
China and ASEAN are good neighbors, good partners and good friends. To strengthen our good-neighborly partnership of mutual trust with ASEAN is an important component of China's diplomacy. The profound friendship and all-around cooperation between us are the results of many years of meticulous care and efforts. SARS will not in any way spoil our relations. The joint battle against SARS can only further solidify our friendship and cooperation. The current Chinese government will continue to be dedicated to deeper friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with ASEAN. We are committed to the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and are ready to expedite the negotiation process with the ASEAN side. The Chinese Government has decided to enter into the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, hoping that the two sides could accelerate the relevant legal procedures. With the issuance of the Joint Declaration on Cooperation in the Field of Non-traditional Security Issues last year, it is all the more necessary, given the current situation, for the two sides to actively implement the follow-up measures by carrying out concrete and effective cooperation.
As an old Chinese saying goes, "Danger and safety are often interchangeable, as it is with disaster and happiness". The great peoples of Asia have had a fine tradition of self-strengthening in times of adversity. China-ASEAN cooperation has a solid foundation. I am convinced that so long as we are united in a concerted effort to take on temporary hardships, we will surely overcome the SARS epidemic, tide over the crisis and usher in even greater prosperity and development in Asia as a whole and particularly in our own region.