By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
June 13, 2007
China has a crisis on its hands. With less than a year to the final run up to the Beijing Games next summer, Chinese pet food has killed American pets; Chinese toothpaste has been found to contain thinners that are poisonous; Chinese catfish are prohibited by Alabama and Mississippi because of high levels of antibiotics; a company in California has recalled “monkfish” from China because it is probably really puffer fish containing the toxin chemical tetrodotoxin.
On Tuesday, June 12, 2007, China’s number two envoy in Washington DC went on the assault to explain the rigor China uses to police and ensure the safety of all products including food.
Chinese Embassy Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission Zheng Zeguang said “certain isolated cases” should not be “blown out of proportion” to mislead the American public into thinking that all food and drugs from China are unsafe. He reiterated that all products coming from China were safe.
Meanwhile, the Chinese charm offensive continued in Beijing.
Vice Minister for the State Administration for Industry and Commerce Li Dongsheng took more than 100 reporters from the international media on a tour of a government facility that houses seized fake products. Fake, tainted or adulterated products from soy sauce to chewing gum were on display.
Mr. Li said, “Yes, there are now some problems of food safety of Chinese products. However, they are not serious. We should not exaggerate those problems.”
Mr. Li said “very good, very complete methods” are used by China to regulate product safety.
“We are very concerned about food safety in China and very concerned about protecting the rights of consumers,” Mr. Li said. “But we do not want to cause panic among the people.”
Well let’s just make two points.
First, these guys, especially Mr. Li, might lose their jobs if not their freedom or their lives if they cannot turn around the impression in the international community that companies in China adulterated products to make money; that these adulterated products, in some cases, were toxic; and that China’s “very good, very complete methods” to get these products out of the “food chain” just didn’t cut the [adulterated] mustard.
And, Second, and more importantly, China has a history, tradition and culture of cheating the other guy.
We call this the “culture of corruption.”
The communist government in China knows this is the case so they do not allow a free press to operate and every single case of tragic wrong-doing results in a flurry of face-saving shows, demonstrations and explanations of how well we do our busines in China.
China’s government acts like a fourth grader caught in the act of smoking a cigarette and then says, “What cigarette?”
A case in point: in 2003, China faced an epidemic of a disease called Severe Acute Reparatory Syndrome (SARS).
Three things happened when China realized it had an epidemic on its hands. In Phase One, China covered up the problem and denied it existed. Phase Two was a flurry of activity to impress the international community that China was on top of the situation. Most of this was for show and didn’t contribute a thing toward ending the epidemic. Finally, China launched Phase Three: a show and charm offensive to convince the world that it did a great job solving the problem.
During the SARS emergency, the international media found out, for the first time, that China lacked sufficient medications, medical staff and hospital facilities to properly service their own population. Like many other things in China, the medical system was mostly a sham. After graduating from medical school, the best educated medical professionals in China went to the west to work.
The World Health Organization estimated that only about 4% of China’s medical professionals were prepared for a disease like SARS. And the medical staff was severely undermanned.
Today, according to China’s Ministry of Health (MOH), “In most countries, the ratio of the number of nurses to the total population is about 0.5 percent, but the ratio in China is only 0.1 percent.”
I documented China’s response to the SARS epidemic in a Washington Times commentary under the headline “China’s Ham-Handed SARS Response: Omen of The Future In Disease Control?”
Recall the Bird Flu crisis? Phases One, Two and Three were used again. Hey, when you have 1.3 Billion people you can’t have a complicated play book. And forget about innovation. When an American football quarterback would call an audible for perfectly valid reasons; China is stuck. The only question China’s government leaders face is, what Phase do you think we are in?
In the current food and product safety crime, China is now launching Phase Three. Zheng Zeguang and Li Dongsheng are apparently two of the point men.
China launched Phase Three of the food safety scare early because there are other emergencies to handle. Hollywood big shots are already calling the 2008 Summer Olympics the “Genocide Games” because of China’s intransigence and denial of the genocide in Darfur. China’s President Hu Jintao heard about it from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the G-8 meeting and the next week from the King and PM during a state visit to Sweden.
Welcome to Darfur: A Place China allows when the rest of the world deplores the situation.
My bet is, given China’s record on human rights, that Hu Jintao’s first reaction normally would be to ignore Canada and Sweden. But these are not normal times.
What if Canada and Sweden boycotted the Beijing Olympics? Losing those two countries would be a tragedy. But Canada and Sweden might convince others to pull out. Add the Hollywood talk of the “Genocide Games” and that could be enough to ruin China’s party next summer.
So China has a few other crises to handle yet in the near term. Blood plasma has now been found to be adulterated and contaminated. Some has been found to be toxic. And the genocide of Darfur looms.
With the Olympics only a year away, China needs to get the food scare settled quickly. We are now in Phase Three.