Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Coming backlash against Chinese goods?

Again and again we hear of massive problems surrounding imported Chinese goods. The lead based paint in the toy trains being the latest. Below is an excerpt from a news article that appeared in a New Zealand paper. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. It's well worth reading.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Buyer beware: the debate over Made in China

Are the mounting scandals about the quality and safety of Chinese imports well founded or more to do with Western prejudices? MATT PHILP investigates.

Made in China: the phrase has long been a byword for cheap. Now, thanks to a spate of heavily publicised product recalls, including some involving tainted food, Western consumers are rapidly getting the idea that it can also be a shorthand for nasty.

In New Zealand, the big story has been the discovery in the Just $2 discount chainstores of tubes of Chinese-sourced toothpaste containing a chemical component of antifreeze. That prompted a recall by the Director General of Health and, just this week, a disclosure that further investigations had uncovered another dozen toothpastes, all believed to be from China, containing the same diethylene glycol.

Overseas, toxic pet food containing industrial plastic, jewellery containing lead, and farmed seafood loaded with antibiotics are among the scares to have knocked consumer confidence in all things Chinese, no matter that the vast majority of exports are perfectly fine.

And there is a strong whiff of jingoism about the reaction, particularly in the United States, where one conservative news website headlined its coverage "Chinese products choke, burn, drown, drop, trap Americans".

Writing for The Washington Post, an Asian affairs columnist, Jeff Yang, remarked that even mainstream coverage has tended to portray China as "a nation blind to hygiene and blissfully unconcerned about recent reports of food contamination" and quoted chef Anthony Bourdain's line about fear of dirt sometimes being indistinguishable from fear of dirty people.

Nevertheless, the recalls have exposed serious shortcomings in China's supervision systems for a range of products, shortcomings from which Chinese consumers have suffered more than anyone and which are being exacerbated by China's rapid emergence as an export powerhouse.

Take a look around your house and count just how much of what clothes, shods, entertains, warms and feeds your family comes from China. The world's factory floor is also the source of a rapidly growing volume of the world's food and drugs – $US30 billion in exports of those two categories to North America, Asia and Europe – and China is racing pell mell towards becoming the world's second largest economy by 2020.

In New Zealand, the value of Chinese imports has grown from just over $1b at the end of the 1990s, to $5b, a long list topped by computers, women's wear, seats, TVs, T-shirts and toys. In the big chainstores, more than half of what is sold is from China.

There's no great mystery to that. The rise of China has helped to keep inflation in check and sustain comfortable lifestyles in the West. Yang puts it bluntly: "Companies want higher profits, consumers want lower prices."

That's why you can disregard talk of a backlash. In several industries, no-one could possibly match the level of China's output. And for all the apparent distrust stirred by recent cases – one poll found only a third of Canadians believe Chinese products are safe – even if you wanted to cut Made in China from your life, where would you start?

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