No winner as Japan and China play the blame game

Posted by: Ian Rowley on February 29, 2008

When news broke that gyoza dumplings imported from China by Japan Tobacco’s food arm contained dangerous levels of a pesticide, hospitalizing ten people, the authorities from both countries initially made all the right noises and agreed to work together to find out the cause of the problem. A month later, both sides—neither of which appear any closer to finding a culprit —now seem to be intent on blaming each other.

On Feb. 28, Chinese officials surprised Japanese counterparts when they said that an inquiry had found no problems at the factory of Tianyang Foods, which made the dodgy dumplings. “We conclude that the dumpling-poisoning incident in Japan is an individual contrived case instead of a food-safety case resulting from pesticide residue,” Wei Chuanzhong, vice minister of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, told reporters.

For good measure, China also appeared to chastise the Japanese police. Japanese media reported that Yu Xinmin, deputy director general of the criminal investigation department at the Public Security Ministry, expressed “deep regret” that Japanese police declined requests by Chinese officers to inspect some of the evidence from Japan.

Predictably, none of that has gone down very well in Japan. “The Chinese side’s announcement of its opinion all of a sudden at a news conference without providing any specific information and analysis results is not going to solve the problem” complained National Public Safety Commission Chairman Shinya Izumi added. The Japanese police added that they were baffled at the Chinese criticism. “We have presented all valuable documents to the Chinese side, so I cannot understand why they expressed regret,” Commissioner General Hiroto Yoshimura said in a press conference on Thursday.

All of which is of little benefit to anyone. Arguably, China has most to lose. After all, the longer the story is in the news, the more its exporters will suffer. Arguing the toss with Japan can only prolong concern among Japanese customers, many of whom wonder how the pesticide, which isn’t used in Japan, found its way into the poisoned dumplings. Surely it would make more sense to promise to redouble safety efforts and focus on winning the PR battle by working closely with Japanese counterparts.

For its part, Japan doesn’t have much to gain from the bickering. Its consumers, already feeling the pinch from higher food prices, will either miss out on food they would otherwise buy if they rule out Chinese imports, or pay more for locally produced substitutes. Meanwhile, importers, like Japan, face falling profits and increased costs as they ramp up safety procedures.

Reader Comments

Steven

February 29, 2008 2:06 PM

Both China and Japan agreed that this should not be a processing or food manufacturing problem. It was a intended crime. The argue is now who did it.

The Tianyuan company mentioned in the article is a company that makes food for Japanese market only. All the making processes are video recorded. China also requests companies that export food must preserve the material samples for later inspections if needed.

In 2007, Japanese government released a report about food imports. China was the top one by quality in 2006. YES, QUALITY. A little safer than EU imports and a lot better than the foods from US.

HanTang

February 29, 2008 3:55 PM

Ian Rowley, your story is misleading.
The bickering was not about the safty of the dumplings. The factory has been unequivically declared not the source of the poison. The bickering was about at what point the poison was instroduced by someone who did it intentionally.

On a second similar case, the source was found from the Japanese market which was using DDT to clean their shelves.

Steve Smith

February 29, 2008 9:41 PM

I suspect the gyoza were intentionally
contaminated by someone in Japan, which is a crime.

The comment "how the pesticide, which isn’t used in Japan" shows lack of common sense. Many chemicals like D.D.T are illegal to use in the U.S.A., that "does not mean they are not used in U.S.A.".

People including some small pest-control businesses still get caught using them when people get sick.
Many people do not know the pesticides
are illegal because they do not bother
to read the laws.

Andy

March 1, 2008 1:28 AM

If the right wing terrorists in Japan were behind this, they certainly wouldn't have used the poison easily found in Japan. This way, they can keep their hands clean and blame the Chinese.

Han Tang

March 1, 2008 11:30 AM

These days, in many US consumer's mind, Chinese made food and toys are equivalent to poison. There is no question that this is exactly result that the western (particularly US media) have wanted. One of the woman jouranist from Fortune opened stated in her article (posted here at BW briefly) "what if the consumer replace 'Made In China' with 'dangerous' and 'poison' in their mind". Now they got what they wanted.

If you are paying attention to US media on China related stories, you will be startled to find that it looks almost all US media are writing in unison about any subject about China. Starting with environment, pollution, food safty, human rights, Tibet, these days, here it goes again Dafur.

lilichenlie

March 2, 2008 7:47 PM

The timing is important.the case happened just before Olympics,these chinese companies are not freshman to the Japanese market.Why now?
There is no surprise while we are linking this case with other cases happened in U.S. before.Who is invisible hand behind these cases? No one knows,but the target is there ,that is Bejing Olympics.

thomas

March 2, 2008 8:37 PM

This case reminds me of many previous cases in Japan stretching back to the 1980's where confectioneries of certain Japanese manufacturers were intentionally laced with poison and placed on grocery shelves by gangs of extortionists. Many of these poisonings were copy-cat cases. As far as I can remember, the Japanese police were generally incompetent and the extortionists were never caught.

Steven

March 2, 2008 10:27 PM

Right before the poisoning incident happened, the parent Japanese company of the shops experienced an abnormal changes in Japanese market without any information. This was the latest findings.

This could be a business conspiracy or political one (target China in a perfect time).

It is a common practice that Japanese grocery stores use dichlorvos to kill bugs as admitted by Japanese even Japanese government said dichlorvos was banned in Japan. This is the causes of some cases in resent poisoning incidents of Chinese dumplings in Japan as the Japanese store's owner acknowledged.

wk

March 3, 2008 12:54 AM

If Japan doesnt want to buy Made in China goods, then stop buying.
Last year Us journalists made hoopla about poisonous toothpaste, kid-killing toys.
What's the result? More exports for China

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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