Boao Forum gets green light despite Sars - for now
Allen T. Cheng in Beijing
Despite the atypical pneumonia outbreak, the central government announced yesterday that the Boao Forum for Asia will continue as scheduled for May 18 and 19.
The Boao Forum, in its third year, has been a major diplomatic initiative hosted by the country for political and business leaders across the region. Held in the beach resort town of Boao on Hainan island, the conference is a pet project of former president Jiang Zemin.
'Regarding Sars and its potential impact, we will make the health of participants our No 1 priority,' said Long Yongtu, the forum's secretary general. 'Also, we have news that the government has contained the disease and that the growth rate [of new cases] is declining. We have decided to hold the forum as scheduled.'
However, Mr Long said officials would re-examine the Sars outbreak towards the end of April and make a final decision then. 'The situation is changing daily, and we have to follow it closely.'
Mr Long said he intends to make the forum - a major initiative between Mr Jiang and former Philippines president Fidel Ramos - a competitor to Switzerland's World Economic Forum. 'In the coming year, we plan to host regional discussions on education and possibly information technology,' he said.
Although the forum brings regional heads of state and corporations together, it has been dogged by controversy. Last year, the event was so overcrowded and poorly managed that it became a public relations disaster for Beijing.
One Bahrain official who attended yesterday's news conference said: 'Mr Long, you're a welcome addition to the Boao Forum, but please try to improve the management this year. Last year, we had to stay in hotels that were so far from the conference hall and traffic was so bad that it took 90 minutes just to get to an event.'
Wu Shicun, the director of Hainan's foreign affairs office, reassured dignitaries and journalists at the news conference that this year's event would be planned and managed better.