Posted by: rbbadger | September 27, 2008

The milk scandal escalates

I posted a while back on the problems of tainted milk in China.  It is a huge embarassment to the Chinese government.  They have vowed swift punishment on those responsible.  The death penalty is still very much an option, even in cases like this.  The former head of China’s food and drug administration was executed a few years back owing to problems with drugs made in China and his own corruption. 

A perfectly valid question, posed by the International Herald Tribune (international edition of the New York Times), is whether or not effective oversight can happen in a one-party state, especially in a one-party state that is anxious to preserve its own powers and privileges above all else.  President Hu Jintao has set forth the ideal of a “Harmonious Society”, something that was certainly an ideal of many a Chinese Emperor, but one that is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to achieve, not just in China but in any state.  The Communist Party will not go quietly, especially since the People’s Liberation Army is not answerable to the state, but the party.

News of the tainted milk was available, some two months before the story actually broke.  According the IHT, an editor who actually had leads on the story and knew something about the problems of tainted milk, was banned by state authorities from writing about it in his newspaper or sending reporters to cover it.  After all, Chinese authorities wanted to have a “harmonious olympics” and didn’t want bad news to get out in the time leading up to it. 

Meanwhile in Korea, the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA, 식품의약품안전청) has ordered the recall of products which may have dairy ingredients from Mainland China.  Coffee vending machines are an ubiquitous sight here, something which may seem initially surprising in a country with a long, long tea tradition.  Tests on the coffee creamer in some of them revealed that they had tainted creamer. 

The Chinese government could stand to learn a lesson or two from its Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.  One of the best things that the British did during their long sojourn in South China was to create a civil service that was renowned for its efficiency, integrity, and transparency.  The Health Department of Hong Kong is not under the thumb of any political party and is independent.  However, on the Mainland, everything is dominated by the party in power and when you have serious problems with corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency (as mainland China has), you leave yourself open to these types of problems.  Also, the absence of a free press tends to aggravate these matters further.

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