Nicholas Kristof: Can China pull it off?

Another Times column, directly related to China. (Word file.)

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

This column is open to comments on Times Select (subscription required). There are over 50 of them now and several express concerns about adulterated exports meant for consumption (which Kristof himself sidesteps)

This is mine:

I’ve recently spent almost 4 years in China and share a love of the kind and hard-working Chinese people with you, as well as the ringside admiration for the amazing transition they are accomplishing. However, returning home to such a tight job market, the lopsided economy that globalization has affected and the ocean of cheap goods that have flooded our stores and markets, I see both sides of the peaceful rise of China and it’s spectacular presence in world trade.

Very recent reports of the reckless and cynical export of adulterated food products shipped to the U.S., and the tragic consequences of counterfeit glycerin used in pharmaceuticals in Haiti and Panama, have embittered the already suspicious attitude about trade, particularly in consumables, with China. We have to have some kind of consumer protection from dangerous foods and food components, and that is not protectionism.

I understand Vice Premier Wu Yi promised better controls on exported food and components, but you, I and everyone who’s been to China knows that this will be a long time coming, if at all. I’m sure the intention of the government is to make all exported food and food components safe, but you, Nick, I, and everyone who has spent an extended amount of time in China know that this is next to impossible, that the administrative infrastructure is not in place, that violations occur in countless hard-to-administrate locations, that regulations are at the behest officials who take bribes and producers who are cavalier about regulations and quick to shrug them off if caught. These are not opinions. Each and every statement I made in the last sentence is corroborated by reports in the NY Times and the Washington Post in the past week.

I am hardly a China basher. Like you, as you said in a column some time ago, I love her and want her to do well. But there has been unconscionable irresponsibility in the area of food and medication exports and they have to answer for that. And so does our own inspection and regulatory system, which have not adequately policed these dangerous imports. Obviously we do not have the infrastructure to deal with the degree of abuse of trade privilege that is occurring.

I know protectionism is a dirty word, but protection shouldn’t be where health and safety are concerned. Since for the present the onus is on this country to assure the safety of imports, I don’t see any problem in having China pay for some of it. This is one case, I sincerely believe, where tariffs and sanctions are called for, and quickly, before any more damage is done.
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This is the link to the Kristof column comments page, but unless you’re a subscriber to Times Select, you may not have access.
http://tinyurl.com/25qm29

May 25, 2007 @ 7:53 am | Comment

ooops, I misreprorted the number of Kristof comments…there are 39 at this moment and mine, if published will make 40

apologies

May 25, 2007 @ 7:57 am | Comment

Great comment, Ellen. Like you point out, protectionism should lose its negative connotations when the discussion centers around basic health and safety issues. I guess one of the problems is that trade has become understood as an end in itself- a mere mechanism of exchange has somehow been transformed into a moral good in its own right.
But if trade means getting contaminated imports and serious quality issues that border on safety hazards, I see nothing dubious about stricter regulations or tariffs until the exporter gets their house in order (which, like you also point out in the case of China, could be decades if ever).

May 25, 2007 @ 8:21 am | Comment

“I understand Vice Premier Wu Yi promised better controls on exported food and components.”

I just bet she did. Let’s hope America and other countries are no longer seduced by empty words. Too long have Chinese diplomats abused the western habit of honouring agreements to get what they want and give nothing in return. Time for everyone to wake up.

Yes, it’s a tough ask for China to implement the kind of controls necessary to improve the situation, but it’s time to see real evidence of effort with results before agreeing to anything on China’s trade ‘wish list’.

May 25, 2007 @ 2:06 pm | Comment

“western habit of honouring agreements”

hahahahahaha. you mean the “western” habit of creating unfair treaties and rapacious “world standards” that consistently screw the third world? crammed up various orifices after being buttered up with lipservice and propaganda?

naw, the bush trade delegates are just throwing infantile tantrums because their main creditor won’t become another vassal state to the u.s. that exists only to continually float u.s. overspending in exchange for practically non-performing bonds.

sorry, but anyone who says china has done “nothing” for the u.s needs to remove their bloated heads from their rectums and take a look at 85% of the things they own; including the mortgage on their properties and any loans they have.

china gets 1.2 trillion virtually worthless pieces of paper in return, and paulson has the gall to pout, piss and moan and show egregious disrespect to a high ranking foreign commission, wow. not surprising at all from anyone in bush’s batshit crazy neocon circus.

maybe if lou dobbs turns up his nationalist socialist propaganda we can get this depraved idiocracy to vote in some isolationist/protectionist measures that inflate the nation to hell and back.

please. china has a lot to gain by protecing intellectual property (and simultaneously banning hollyweird and other pop garbage), but they aren’t about to take lip from some crack-addicted debtor.

May 27, 2007 @ 2:04 pm | Comment

Um….so you are saying that you think Americans should just accept eating tainted foods because of the current way in which China buys US currency (for its own reasons, I might add, not the reasons of the US)? That’s cute. Yeah, Ferins….that’ll happen. Just keep holding your breath…

May 31, 2007 @ 12:05 am | Comment

No, I think China should send all involved to the laogais.

But in the meantime, the united empire of fatasses should perhaps take better care of their health.

step out of the suv and drop the chocolates.

May 31, 2007 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

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