BACKGROUND & CHARACTER
JUDGES & COURTS
A global recall of millions of Chinese-made toys was the result of new industry standards, not poor quality products.
So says Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng.
Speaking at a news conference in Beijing Thursday, Gao said that the recall was a responsible move, given that products could affect the health and safety of children.
He added that a recall of more than 18 million toys with magnets was the result of new standards that were put in place in May.
Addressing the issue of lead found in toys, Gao blamed loopholes in the manufacturing process in China, but also noted that retailers were to blame as well for their failure to inspect products.
On Wednesday, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the two US importers, announced the voluntary recall of about 300,000 products.
The toy recall campaign follows similar warnings around the world about the toxic contamination of toothpaste, seafood and pet food produced in China.
Last week, the Mattel toy company recalled more than 18 million Chinese-made toys because they had been coated in lead paint or contained small magnets that would be hazardous if swallowed by young children.
China’s Commerce Ministry said it is investigating companies that made the recalled Mattel toys.
In response to these concerns, China has blacklisted more than 400 companies for violating trade rules.
On Thursday, China announced the launch of a new nationwide safety campaign that focuses on food and drugs, as well as increased monitoring of exports.
A dire human rights record and a renewed crackdown on media freedom may spoil China’s hopes of a successful “coming out party” at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
A year ahead of the August 8, 2008 opening ceremonies, the China shows no substantive progress in addressing long-standing human rights concerns. Instead, apparently more worried about political stability, Beijing is tightening its grip on domestic human rights defenders, grassroots activists and media to choke off any possible expressions of dissent ahead of the Games.
“Instead of a pre-Olympic ‘Beijing spring’ of greater freedom and tolerance of dissent, we are seeing the gagging of dissidents, a crackdown on activists, and attempts to block independent media coverage,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government seems afraid that its own citizens will embarrass it by speaking out about political and social problems, but China’s leaders apparently don’t realize authoritarian crackdowns are even more embarrassing.”
China has a well-documented history of serious human rights abuses, including widespread torture, censorship of the media and internet, controls on religious freedom, and repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang.
In addition, China continues to lead the world in executions. The government classifies the number of people executed as a state secret, but it is believed that China executes many more people than the rest of the world combined each year. Most trials are deeply flawed, as the accused often do not have access to adequate defense counsel, trials are usually closed to the public, evidence is often obtained through torture, and the appellate process lacks needed safeguards. China’s courts lack independence, as they remain controlled by the government and ruling Chinese Communist Party.
But the staging of the Olympics is exacerbating problems of forced evictions, migrant labor rights abuses, and the use of house arrests to silence political opponents. The government is continuing its crackdown on lawyers, human rights defenders and activists who dedicate themselves to rule of law and the exposure of rights abuses. Fear of citizen activism has led to government obstruction of local activists and grassroots organizations working to stem China’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Fears of harm to China’s national image have even led Chinese officials to stop prominent activists from leaving the country. Among them, Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, a husband-and-wife team of human rights activists, have been clamped under house arrest and travel restrictions since May on unsubstantiated suspicions of “harming state security.”
The victims of government retribution against perceived “troublemakers” often include those who devote themselves to defending some of China’s most marginalized and vulnerable citizens.
Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-educated lawyer who documented abuses of China’s family planning law, was convicted in August 2006 of instigating an attack on government offices in a sham trial in which his lawyers were physically attacked and then detained by police to prevent them from attending.
Gao Zhisheng, an outspoken advocate of the rights of human rights abusers said in April 2007 that he agreed to write a confession to charges of sedition leveled at him in December 2006 only after he had been tortured and security officials had threatened his wife and children.
“Political repression is not in keeping with the behavior of a responsible power and Olympic host,” said Adams. “The Chinese government shouldn’t waste this unique opportunity to use the 2008 Games to demonstrate to the world it is serious about improving the rights situation in China.”
Human Rights Watch said that China’s close relationship with dictatorships and rights- abusing governments in places like Sudan, Burma, Cambodia and Zimbabwe will also come under close scrutiny in the coming year.
With one year to go before the Olympics launch, “The starting gun has been fired on the assessment of China’s commitment to rights at home and abroad,” said Adams. “Just as Chinese citizens will be rooting for their athletes to win medals, we are rooting for the Chinese government to move up in the league tables on rights protection.”
More background on major areas for human rights reform in the Olympic run-up:
1. Forced evictions and school closures. The construction of facilities for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing has involved forced evictions of thousands of citizens in and around Beijing, often without adequate compensation or access to new housing. The pre-Olympic “clean-up” of Beijing has resulted in the closure of dozens of officially unregistered schools for the children of migrant workers.
2. Labor rights. Thousands of migrant workers employed on Olympic and other construction sites across Beijing do not receive legally mandated pay and benefits including labor insurance and days off, and are often compelled to do dangerous work without adequate safeguards.
3. Repression of ethnic minorities. China continues to use the “war on terrorism” to justify policies to eradicate the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism – allegedly prevalent among Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Uighurs who express “separatist” tendencies are routinely sentenced to quick, secret and summary trials, sometimes accompanied by mass sentencing rallies. The death penalty is common. In Tibet, Chinese authorities still view the Dalai Lama, in exile in India since 1959, as central to the effort to separate Tibet from China and view Tibetan Buddhist belief as supportive of these efforts. Suspected “separatists,” many of whom come from monasteries and nunneries, are routinely imprisoned.
4. Religious freedom. China does not recognize freedom of religion outside the state-controlled system in which all congregations, mosques, temples, churches and monasteries must register. The government also curtails religious freedom by designating and repressing some groups as “cults,” such as the Falungong.
5. Death penalty and executions. The government does not publicize figures for the death penalty, but it is mandated for no fewer than 68 crimes. Though the exact number is a state secret, it is estimated that as many as 10,000 executions are carried out each year.
5. HIV/AIDS. Measures to address China’s HIV/AIDS crisis are hampered as local officials and security forces continue to obstruct efforts by activists and grassroots organizations to contribute to prevention and education efforts and to organize care-giving.
6. House arrests. Numerous human rights defenders and government critics have been harassed, detained and subject to house arrest. If today’s pattern holds, a pre-Olympic clampdown in the weeks and months before the Games is likely.
7. Foreign policy. China’s close relations with countries linked to severe, ongoing human rights violations are also a serious source of concern. China maintains relations with and provides aid to regimes including Sudan, the site of egregious human rights violations in Darfur, and Burma, whose military junta violently suppresses civilians. China has also not ratified the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, which it signed in 1998.
The European Union Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Meglena Kuneva, told reporters Tuesday that Chinese officials have said they will follow through on their agreement to provide quarterly reports on investigations into dangerous Chinese products exported to the EU.
“I received a political commitment of the highest level, and I will watch how this political commitment will be translated into practice,” Kuneva said.
Kuneva said China is obliged by a memorandum of understanding, signed with the EU in early 2006, to fully investigate EU complaints of unsafe Chinese products and to provide a summary of enforcement efforts in quarterly reports. However, in the last year, she said, China has provided only two reports.
“The first report was very poor in respect of tracking down, the second was better but still not sufficient,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Half of all unsafe exports last year to the EU came from China. The EU is China’s largest trading partner and one in four products imported to the EU come from China.
But those products include children’s toys with high lead or chemical content or small parts that posed a choking hazard, batteries that may explode and lamps that could electrocute.
China is under pressure to better enforce product safety standards after a series of revelations about tainted and deadly exports.
Chinese officials last week announced the closure of a company that exported mislabeled chemicals that were used in cough syrup in Panama, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people there in the last year.
Two other companies were closed for using toxic chemicals in pet food ingredients believed to have killed hundreds of dogs and cats in North America earlier this year.
The United States has refused exports of Chinese farm-raised fish and seafood after drugs banned in the US were found in shipments.
Chinese officials acknowledge some Chinese companies are responsible for unsafe exports, but insist the vast majority of products are safe.
China’s announced blocking of imports of some US processed meat that showed signs of contamination–which affects some of the largest US food companies, including Cargill Meat Solutions and Tyson Foods–is the opening salvo in a multi-front counterattack against critics who have questioned the safety of Chinese exports.
As previously reported by China Confidential, Beijing intends to expose the export by US companies of recycled waste vegetable oil and slaugtherhouse animal fat renderings to Asia and Latin America for use as animal feed additives. The firms, which control the collection of recycled restaurant grease in the US, are legally prohibited from selling such products into the US food chain because of the fear of mad-cow disease from the animal components.
The US exports could be processed into biodiesel; but relatively expensive collection and refining methods make foreign food-chain markets more attractive to the US rendering and waste oil collection giants.
Voice of America (VOA) reported Thursday that an American official accused China of failing to do all it should to stop militarily significant supplies from reaching Iran, even though China voted for United Nations sanctions aimed at preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
Ambassador Don Mahley, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for international security and nonproliferation, told the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission that Chinese companies sold items to Iran that the United States considers banned under UN resolutions aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.
Commonly called the China Commission, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission is a Congressional advisory body that was created in the year 2000 to monitor, investigate, and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the US and China, and to provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action.
Mahley spoke on the first day of a two-day public hearing in Washington on China’s Proliferation and Impact of Trade Policy on Defense Industries in the US and China. The hearing will examine the impact of China’s proliferation practices on US national security, China’s compliance with its own nonproliferation laws and regulations and international proliferation norms, the development of indigenous defense industrial capacity in China, and the impact of trade practices and manufacturing in China on the US defense industrial base.
“There have been transfers, which we have addressed with the Chinese, in which we believe that the transfers were not permitted by UN Security Council resolutions 1737 and 1747,” Mahley said.
He added that Beijing does not dispute that the transfers occurred, but differs with Washington about whether the transfers violate the UN resolutions. Mahley efused to publicly name specific equipment or technology, but he said they were “involved” with Iran’s missile and nuclear programs.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney testified that the Chinese government has taken what he called a legalistic approach to the UN resolutions, which do not call for a blanket ban on such transfers to Iran.
“Very clearly, the transfers that Ambassador Mahley’s talking about are things that are not consistent with the spirit of those U.N. resolutions and the purpose and intent of them,” Sedney said.
Sedney also questioned Chinese sales of conventional arms to Iran.
“Supplying conventional weapons to Iran, at a time when Iran is supplying and funding groups in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, that are confronting and sometimes killing American troops and our allies, that is not the activities that I would expect of a strategic or of a cooperative partner,” he said.
Sedney also highlighted US concerns that Beijing is allowing transfers of what he described as a wide variety of dual-use and conventional technologies to countries like Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
China executed a former director of its food and drug agency Tuesday for approving fake medicine in exchange for cash, while officials announced steps to safeguard food at next summer’s Olympic Games.
Xinhua news agency reported the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, who was sentenced to death in May for accepting cash and gifts worth more than $830,000 from pharmaceutical companies. Xinhua said his appeal was rejected because of the immense damage he had caused to public health and safety.
During his time as chief, the administration approved many medicines that did not meet standards, including six fake drugs. One antibiotic allegedly caused the deaths of at least 10 people.
Zheng was the highest level official to be executed in seven years.
The speed with which his appeal was rejected and the death sentence was carried out suggests the authorities wished to make an example of Zheng, as a warning to other would-be bribe-takers. Corruption is rampant in rising China.
But China Confidential sources say Zheng was also executed to silence him. He knew too much about too many sons and daughters of high-ranking Communist Party officials.
The dirty little secret about China’s state sponsored capitalism is that the biggest gains and opportunities are reserved for those with the strongest party–and military–ties.
In addition to Zheng, five other drug supervision officials have also received sentences for corruption ranging from 13 years to life in prison.The measures include ensuring athletes’ food is free of substances that could trigger a positive result in tests for banned performance-enhancing drugs. Many of China’s recent food woes have been tied to the purity of ingredients, flavoring, artificial colors and other additives.
China’s food and drug administration spokeswoman, Yan Jiangying, told reporters on Tuesday that the country’s food and drug safety was “unsatisfactory” and the country was facing a tough situation in supervising standards.
“As a developing country, China’s food and drug supervision work began late and its foundations are weak,” she said. “Therefore, the food and drug safety situation is not something we can be optimistic about.”