The Power of a "Free" Press, American-Style
It seems that the Western press is determined to present China in the worst possible light. Surely there are problems here that need addressing, but the picture in the Western press is so ideologically-driven, so one-sided and dishonest that it does makes me angry sometimes.|
I think that the problems with the contaminated milk, dog food, toothpaste and similar items are a real indication of corners being cut here, with no serious thought to the possible consequences. No disputing that, and the government here is very unhappy about the fallout from things like that.
China immediately revokes the export licenses of these firms, so that the factories can produce but not sell, which means they are out of business. With the domestic companies, the government just shuts them down. The government treats these situations very seriously, and has created a whole new department just to monitor and investigate food quality across the entire country. It's a big thing that has happened here.
But there are three kinds of communication flaws in the Western press which are downright dishonest.
The first is that the media and the companies blame China for things that are not in any way China's fault. For example, the entire Mattel toy recall had almost nothing to do with China. In part, Mattel designed toys with little magnets that kids could eat, and had a change of heart after a few accidents and decided to recall the whole shipment. The toys were made to Mattel's specifications and it was entirely their fault.
Another was that the US Government changed the specifications for lead quantity in paints after the toys had already been manufactured and shipped to the stores in North America. That one was neither China's nor Mattel's fault, and China did not violate any specifications on this.
There apparently was a small amount of toys where the lead content did indeed exceed the required limit, but this was apparently only a few percent of the total. In this whole Mattel thing, China was virtually blameless.
Mattel's President later issued an apology, which is partly reproduced here: "Mattel takes full responsibility for those recalls and I would like to apologize personally to you, the Chinese people and all of the customers who received toys that have been manufactured." He said "we understand and appreciate deeply the issues that this has caused for the reputation of Chinese manufacturers." He admitted that the vast majority of its recalled toys were of design flaws rather than the manufacturing errors of China.
Calling his conversation with Thomas Debrowski "frank", Li Changjiang, head of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said in a subsequent news briefing that he appreciated Debrowski's "impartial analysis" and his "responsible and honest explanations".
He said the conclusion of Mattel was basically consistent with the results of investigations carried out by the Chinese side, which showed that 87 percent of the 21 million recalled toys had design flaws while the remaining 13 percent contained excessive lead.
It was even more maddening when the Washington Post reported the apology but then said it meant nothing, since Mattel was just apologising to its consumers and not to China for damaging its reputation. Which is total BS.
And reading between the lines, it's clear that something happened to frighten Mattel into telling the truth. My guess is that the Government of China threatened to sue Mattel for defamation, and that could have bankrupted the company. Can you imagine that Mattel's president flew personally to Beijing to apologise to the Chinese government for the media claims about the toys? That's sucking big-time.
"Mattel certainly must have been facing some pressure to do that, because you can't imagine why they would be trying to push this story along any further," said Eric Johnson, a professor of operations management at Dartmouth College. He suggested Mattel was trying to avoid punitive measures and to prevent China from imposing more taxes or regulations.
The second kind of dishonesty is that precisely the same problems happen in reverse, in food and goods being shipped TO China, but we never see a word about that in the Western Press.
It happens so often that entire shipments of US beef must be returned because they contain matter from the brains and spinal columns of animals. The US producers are not doing that by accident - they know what they're packing.
US companies constantly send banned genetically-modified foods to China. The inspections catch some, but how many get through? It occurs with fruit, vegetables, pharmaceuticals, all kinds of consumables, that there are serious health and safety issues, and entire shipments of goods that must be returned. But the West continues to ship prohibited goods to China, and you never see a word printed in the Western papers.
It's far worse than most readers might imagine. In 2009, the US sent to China (as a humanitarian gift!) a large shipment of containers of medical goods - everything from bandages to syringes to medicines - everything. The entire shipment was returned to the US, and my imagination fails me when I try to see what these people were thinking when they put the shipment together.
Most of the physical things like the bandages and syringes had packages that had been punctured and were no longer sterile. Many of the syringes had in fact been previously used, and inserted back into the original packaging for disposal. But the US Government collected all of these and sent them to China instead. We saw it all here on TV, doctors and police showing and explaining all of the items that were defective.
Many, or all, of the medications were past their safe use date. The entire shipment was garbage. It was such a horrid thing to have done, but I found nothing in any American or Canadian newspaper about this.
This kind of thing happens in China far too often. There is a huge cosmetics firm named SK-II that had been selling in China cosmetics and creams that had high levels of carcinogens and heavy metals, and which had already been banned in all Western countries. So the manufacturer shipped all their recalls to China and began selling them in the major cities.
After repeated warnings which the company ignored, the Chinese government ordered all the firm's products of all kinds to be removed from all stores in China. Only then did the company recall the dangerous cosmetics and make a deal with the authorities to be able to sell their other products.
And where did the dangerous things go? Africa, of course, where they are being sold to unsuspecting consumers in Botswana or someplace.
This kind of thing happens far too frequently, but the Western media never breathe a word. My guess is that China is the victim of as much or more dangerous or lethal product from the West, particularly the US, as it sends outward. You may find that hard to believe, but I live here and I see it.
During 2009, Sony produced three models of digital cameras that were defective. The screens failed in significant ways, the photos were flawed, and there were other defects in those entire model lines. After a few problems in the US and Europe, Sony quietly recalled all of those products and shipped them to China where they were on sale everywhere.
For almost one year, there were increasing complaints which Sony just ignored. Finally, a news reporter put the story together where it received much media attention. At first Sony simply denied that their products had any flaws at all. Then they said it was only a few thousand out of millions sold in China. Then the reporter proved that it was many tens and possibly hundreds of thousands that were defective.
After one year, Sony finally agreed to repair or replace the cameras and told the media that their website had the procedures. But it didn't. Back into the media for another Sony blast, and finally Sony absolutely refused to refund money but agreed to replace the defective cameras with new ones.
But they didn't. The customers discovered that Sony was giving them reconditioned units that people in other countries had returned for these same defects. So after waiting a year and putting up with a badly flawed camera (that cost a lot of money here), Sony finally gave people used ones as replacement.
Would they do that in Canada or the US? You know they wouldn't, but this is China, so who cares? The Western press will never report it so nobody will ever know.
I will never buy another Sony product. I don't need them. There are too many other good companies making too many other good things.
The third really annoying aspect is that too many of the Western papers and other media have got it in their heads that China should be bashed whenever the country is mentioned. It is so insane that sometimes I can't believe the things I read.
In one recent case, part of a tunnel collapsed in Beijing where a new subway line was being constructed, and a dozen or so workers were trapped. Apparently the manager of the excavation company panicked and thought he could rescue the workers by himself and not have the government or police investigate him.
But when the Western press got the story, the headlines read, "Chinese Government willingly sacrifices lives, killing hundreds of people, solely in order to profit from the Olympics." And of course it went on to say that China should lose the Olympics because of this.
I recently read an article in a major US paper about global warming and shifting weather patterns around the globe. And so help me, the article had a phrase like this: "China, which has a one-party communist government, is experiencing one of the hottest summers on record."
The Toronto Star ran a big front-page story about the recent typhoon that hit Shanghai. I read it. It went on about the heavy rains and blistering winds that "battered the city", and on and on. It reported that more than 2 million people had been evacuated.
The only problem was that the story appeared in the Star a full 24 hours BEFORE the storm hit Shanghai. And in fact, the storm never hit Shanghai at all; we had a couple of hours of moderate rain, and almost no wind, because the storm decreased before it reached us. We did evacuate 200,000 people for a few hours and then returned them to their homes. The storm was a total non-event, and the story was just manufactured nonsense. But it was news for the Star.
I could go on forever. The UK Economist Magazine and The New York Times are probably the worst offenders, totally opinionated, inexcusably uninformed, and blinded by ideology. I wish readers would think about the things written about China, and consider that maybe they aren't getting the full story or even a true story. And maybe try to remember that much of what happens involving China is never reported by your news media.
The reason is that the Western world is a club. And club members everywhere want new members added only by invitation. China has not been 'invited' to join - it got there by itself, without help from anyone. Nobody likes an upstart.
There is one other thing for my friends in Canada to consider, namely Stephen Harper, your hapless (and, in my view, largely incompetent) Prime Minister.
Ever since the days of Dr. Norman Bethune, Canadians have been loved and almost revered in China. We have been admired, respected, welcomed in a way that people from no other nation have ever known. Harper's one-man demolition team has destroyed most of that.
Harper's foreign policy is based on his religious Right-Wing extremism, making so much public noise about China's human rights record or about Tibet or Taiwan, insulting the Chinese people and the Chinese government in ways that most readers cannot imagine.
Harper was proud to be Bush's lapdog, thinking he could join the big leagues if he mouthed the same kinds of things as Bush did, but he is too naive to see the real picture. True, the Americans bash China regularly. But US companies are here by the hundreds of thousands, buying everything they can buy, making everything they can make, and selling everything they can sell.
The Americans do make a lot of noise, but they perform well where it counts. Because of that, the US is still welcome here, and China will draw on a great deal of knowledge and experience from the West.
Harper doesn't see any of that. And in China now, Canada is nowhere. That deep Chinese gratitude and respect for Canadians is disappearing, largely because of one simple-minded and ignorant man. He is now advertising his proposal to give an official visit to the Dalai Lama - supporting the independence of Tibet. I can scarcely imagine anything more short-sighted that this man could do.
What would Canada say if the US came out strongly in support of Quebec's independence? What does Harper expect China to think and to do about his support for the independence of Tibet?
There is one other thing, to do with China's so-called 'human rights record'. There are indeed some problems here, but not those reported in the Western press. China is far more open than many people would like to believe. It is true that you cannot go on national TV and insult the leaders. We could (and should) do that in Canada with Harper. And in the US with almost all leaders, in my opinion.
Did you know that the US has 5% of the world's population and 24% of the world's prisoners in jails? That's from the CIA factbook. Do the math. Did you know that the US has many more murders in a year than China does? The lack of guns is probably a big help, but still. The Western countries, mostly the US, execute almost as many people as China. And yes, the papers all say they just hide the truth, but Western governments are quite capable of doing the same.
It's a very long story but the longer I live here and come to learn and understand, the more I see so many lies and so much unfairness from the 'good guys'. This country just is not the way it is presented.
I will close with a disqualifier I have used before. This is not my country and I do not have a defense contract with it. If you have a complaint, I am not the person to whom you bring it.
I am trying to report fairly what I see here. China is not perfect, but the miracle that has been happening here for the past 30 years has not been conceived or executed by evil men managing stupid and dishonest people. Going to Iraq and killing more than a million largely innocent men, women and children is evil. China has never done that.
The world has never before seen what it is seeing today in China, where in the space of one generation China has come from a near-destitute third-world nation to a rapidly-developing second-world and soon-to-be-first world nation.
The world forgets that for most of the last millenium China was a major world trading power and if the British and the French had not played havoc with the introduction of opium and the subsequent opium wars and the evisceration of the Chinese social order, China would surely have acquired first world status sometime in the early 1950's.
It is largely owing to what colonial Britiain and France did here that China embarked on that bitter revolutionary course with Mao. It has now returned to its historical roots and is continuing its natural development.