China: developing more slowly politically than economically?

Cheng Yan Kit (Chris) (Hong Kong, AC 08-10)

It is a weird but real phenomenon that some visitors from mainland China are now travelling to Hong Kong just to buy a few cans of milk powder for their child every week.

Melamine, a chemical used to make plastic, was found in the products of major milk producers recently. The reason behind this practice was that adding such a thing as melamine makes the protein content of the milk in a food test show a higher level. Soon not only the milk powder but other products e.g. Cakes and coffee were reported to contain this chemical.

The shocking news brings chaos and panic to most families especially those having a child. Until 21st September, there were over 50,000 babies affected and 4 of them died. People are flocking to hospitals with their children to have medical check-ups.  The scandal has severely trampled public confidence in the government and enterprises. 

It is just like a chemistry lesson- we learnt what Ozocerite is  from rice …we learnt what Sudan Red is from Chilli Sauce…today we learnt that Melamine is from dairy products. – An ironic comment made by an internet user in China.

Known as the ‘Factory of the World’, the disaster is not only confined to China, but has spread to different regions. The reputation of ‘Made in China’ goods is seriously damaged, facing a ban or “off shelves” such as in Korea and France.

 To curb the problem, the Central Government has decided to investigate the issue. The Premier Wen Jiabao, inspected several major factories and hospitals. Meanwhile, the police detained several people after smashing a network that made and sold melamine and added it to milk. A number of high-rank officials resigned from positions due to their inability to control the quality of food.

Forcing some officials to step down in this scandal is an attempt of the Chinese Government to establish accountability among civil servants. However, without free media to monitor the government in mainland China, such policies can only be effective to a small extent. 

It is not the 1st time that food safety scandals have broken out in China. The root cause of the problem is Government’s structure and lack of supervision who tend to hide the case and not disclose information. Officials are reluctant to report as they are afraid this kind of negative news will affect their career and promotion. Also, serious bureaucracy and corruption has caused central policy to fail and has made it unable to be carried out in local regions.

China is still a developing country; Deng XiaoPing’s Open Door Policy led China to start rising economically in the past 20 years. Now the social and political aspects are improving at a slower pace then its economic and technological development. Therefore to maintain a stable market and shape a people-oriented society are the critical tasks for the leaders in this generation.

 – United World College Student Magazine –

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