They stress that co-operating with other countries is vital to avoid pariah status The Sars outbreak highlighted how China's carefully built up image could be shattered overnight and should serve as a wake-up call to its foreign affairs establishment, foreign policy experts say. Pang Zhongying, a visiting researcher at Warwick University in England, said the initial Sars cover-up damaged the mainland's credibility. Only after the central government came clean and took more forceful steps to combat Sars did it manage to salvage some honour. President Hu Jintao's first overseas trip further contained the damage. But the brief period of isolation hurt China's efforts to become an active member of the international community. The link between China's domestic policy and its international standing should direct the nation's foreign policy-makers to look deeper inside the country, Mr Pang said. He said Sars redefined globalisation for mainlanders as the outbreak knew no boundaries. During such a crisis, a nation must either actively co-operate with other countries and the World Health Organisation or become a pariah. 'After initial vacillation, China has embraced globalisation,' he said. Mr Pang said many countries, including the United States and Japan, had been considering foreign affairs reforms to become more responsive to the changing world. China, in the wake of Sars, should also examine how the crisis could have been handled better, he said. Although the central government emphasised continuity in foreign affairs, the new era called for radical changes in its formulation and implementation, he said. China watchers note that since the Kosovo war in 1999, crisis management has become an urgent topic. Mechanisms were set up to formulate rapid response policies. Two overlapping work groups - one on external affairs and one on national security - in the Communist Party formulate the policies. The system has been tested after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, the collision between a US spy plane and a PLA fighter jet near Hainan and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Sars presented the first non-traditional security challenge to the work groups. Veteran foreign policy analysts, however, played down the outbreak's future effect on the conduct of foreign affairs. 'The principle of pragmatism had been firmly established before Sars,' said Lu Guozhong, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies. Mr Lu said there was a universal desire to make the world a better place through co-operation in public health, environmental issues and peace-keeping. The Sars outbreak might help advance such thinking in the circles of foreign policy makers, he said.