Chinese Safety Concern Empties Distant Shelves
Comment of the Day

January 09 2013

Commentary by David Fuller

Chinese Safety Concern Empties Distant Shelves

This is an informative article by Matt Siegel for the NYT & IHT (requires subscription registration for the full online article, PDF also provided). Here is the opening
SYDNEY, Australia - A surge in sales of one of Australia's most popular brands of infant formula has led to an unusual sight for this wealthy nation: barren shelves in the baby aisle and even rationing of baby food in some leading retail outlets.

But the run on formula is not the result of a local baby boom. Instead, it is being attributed to Chinese visitors, who are apparently concerned about domestic food safety standards and are believed to be buying in bulk and carrying it home.

The run is one of the odder examples of how China's thirst for high-quality products can upend faraway consumer markets, particularly amid concerns about the quality of its food supply.

A number of recent high-profile scandals involving tainted food products in China have shaken public confidence in the safety of domestic supplies. In 2009, two Chinese milk producers were executed for selling contaminated milk powder after infant formula and other products were found to have the industrial chemical melamine. Six children died and about 300,000 became ill, provoking a nationwide panic among parents.

David Fuller's view Following on from yesterday's report on China and the lead paragraph on 'Recovery and reforms', the article above and reports on other scandals demonstrate how crucial and also difficult Xi Jinping's attempt to curb corruption will be.

Serious corruption across a country, let alone one the size of China, is a top-down process. Everyone in China knows that its rulers at the top, not to mention numerous so-called 'princelings' across the land, amassed considerable fortunes because of their privileged political positions. Inevitably, millions of China's ordinary citizens have concluded that they would be fools not to emulate their rulers. Scandals have proliferated and I maintain that they are the greatest threat to China's future development.

Nevertheless, we know from the history of all countries that the drift into corruption can be reversed. We also know that higher ethical standards from the top down can be maintained by education, vigilance and a good legal system which China has yet to develop. Xi Jinping should have most of the population on his side, especially if people feel that he has earned their trust. However, to succeed he will need to set a good personal example and also be wise, sincere, persuasive and resolute. Good luck to him.

Corruption occurs in all countries and it is the equivalent of an unwritten tax on their potential, without exception and in proportion to the extent that it is tolerated. Governance is Everything.

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