China Does the Product Safety Dance

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/27/2007 12:13:00 PM
We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
'Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're no friends of mine
I say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance

Saving face is a very important concept in Asian cultures. It involves not embarrassing your counterparty too much even if he/she/it has let you down to some extent. In this context, the response of the Chinese to the current brou-ha-ha over the safety of products emanating from the Middle Kingdom is perfectly understandable. In part, it is a cultural misunderstanding. Western media has mercilessly pounced on Chinese products found to be defective as "Poison Me Elmo" or "SpongeBob PoisonPants." Western firms have also been quick to dump their Chinese partners when product safety questions arise.

The Chinese would undoubtedly prefer a less confrontational approach to handling the product safety issue than it being thrown into the court of public opinion, which is already quite resentful of China's rising dominance in manufacturing. (There are, of course, underlying trade tensions.) What we have here is another not-so-snappy retort from China aimed at face saving that's the equivalent of "Oh yeah? Well, your mother wears army boots." It goes, "Yes, we could improve our product safety standards, but your product designs were dangerous to begin with." It's all rather silly if you think about it, this product safety dance, so I've decided to include a clip above of the equally silly 80s video entitled "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats. Unlike today's mostly tuneless, humorless, and crass mu-sick, 80s music is fun. Anyway, on to the Reuters story:
China on Monday hit back at Mattel, after a massive toy recall, saying designers and importers should also take responsibility for product safety, but promised to punish its own manufacturers who flout standards.

The world's largest toymaker, Mattel, recalled more than 18 million Chinese-made toys in mid-August because of hazards from small magnets that can cause injury if swallowed, just two weeks after it recalled 1.5 million toys due to fears over lead paint.

"I myself looked at some of the samples of these problematic toys, and I found that there is a serious problem with the design. The design is seriously defective," Li Changjiang, head of China's General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, told a news conference.

"In my view, no matter where those toys were sold there would be a recall, because it is highly likely they are dangerous for children.

"While we recognize that Chinese producers should be blamed for those problematic toys, what kind of responsibility should the U.S. designers and the U.S. importers take in this respect?" Li asked.

China is facing growing global pressure to clean up its manufacturing sector and ensure the quality of its exports after a series of scandals involving products ranging from poisonous pet food ingredients to sub-standard toys and tainted toothpaste.

Li has described the storm surrounding Chinese-made goods as politically motivated and unfair, but he has also called for tougher regulation of manufacturers and warned that failure to improve quality was undermining China's trade strength.

On Monday, he blamed differing national standards, misleading statistics and lack of communication for some of the product safety scares that have alarmed foreign consumers.

"For some products, the two countries enforce different standards," Li said of China and the United States, also citing "inaccurate statistics".

But he said the latest Chinese campaign to improve product safety would focus on creating a chain of supervision across the entire production process for both industrial products and food.

Monitoring and inspection of drug manufacturers would also be strengthened, and celebrities banned from endorsing drugs in advertisements, Li said.

He also acknowledged the vast challenge China faces in overseeing its hundreds of thousands of tiny, often family-run producers, a task compounded by lack of communication between myriad government agencies overseeing production and safety standards, and between central and local authorities.

But Li defended the "made-in-China" label and said Chinese-made toys in particular were enjoyed the world over.

"In China, about 3 million workers are working in the toy industry, providing toys to children all across the world," he said.

"It is because of their hard work that children in other parts of the world are having fun in their daily life."