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Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on November 20, 2008
Finally, some additional numbers from the Chinese government about the extent of the poisoned milk scandal. According to the Ministry of Health, 50,741 Chinese children sickened by the tainted milk have been released from hospitals in the past two months. Another 1,041 remain hospitalized. Conspicuously absent from the Xinhua report: The number of deaths. When the story first broke in September, the media reported four children had died as a result of having consumed large amounts of melamine milk. Are we to believe that of the tens of thousands of other children sickened, no one else died?
Meanwhile, the Chinese government now is vowing to take steps to make sure the scandal doesn’t happen again. The Health Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry will both increase their oversight of the dairy industry. As the AP points out, though, we’ve seen this sort of thing before. The government did something similar after last year’s Made-in-China scandals, for instance. “After an initial unwillingness to acknowledge problems, authorities threw themselves into a campaign to protect export industries and bolster the country’s reputation as the world’s manufacturing base,” the AP reports. Going back further, the government behaved similarly during the SARS outbreak. But what sort of impact has the government had with these conspicuous crackdowns?
We can’t really know, since the Chinese media isn’t free and the government isn’t open. Or, as the director of Asia studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, China expert Elizabeth C. Economy, “As China’s global presence grows, the world increasingly is looking to China to assume greater responsibility and leadership on issues as wide-ranging as the global financial crisis, Darfur, and climate change. Yet Chinese leaders are reluctant to assume such a mantle of leadership, frequently arguing that the most effective means by which China can help the world is by taking action at home. The world should probably listen. Until China’s leaders fix things at home, they can’t really tackle the global problems abroad. And without fundamental governance reform-as fundamental as the economic reforms launched 30 years ago by Deng Xiaoping-China’s leaders will never tackle their domestic problems successfully nor realize their desire to be a responsible actor internationally.”
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. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.