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Economic & Trade Relations
Special> Sino-U.S. Economic & Trade Relations> Economic & Trade Relations
UPDATED: September 7, 2007 NO.37 SEP.13, 2007
It Takes Two to Tango
Did those U.S. congressmen currently appealing for various extremist and discriminatory- restricting measures against Chinese commodities bar or prevent quality regulators from increasing their essential input at the beginning?

Since early March this year, the outcry concerning the quality of Chinese export commodities, from cosmetics to foodstuffs to toys, has been deafening, particularly from certain congressmen, presidential candidates and the media in the United States. Tom Plate, a professor at UCLA, and Mei Xinyu, a research fellow with the Research Academy under the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, however, point out that an ineffective U.S. quality inspection system must shoulder some of the responsibility for the current safety scare.

Stop Toying Around With Sino-U.S. Relations


An effective foreign policy requires proportionate thinking. Hysteria and demagoguery can win a few elections, but they can lose wars and economic battles of enormous consequence. In the United States, foreign policy making is particularly complex: Even if the president and the executive branch do get things right, the effort will be eviscerated if overly ambitious politicians in the legislative branch make a brutal hash of coherent policy.

Such is what is beginning to happen with the Sino-U.S. relationship, arguably the most sensitive and important single bilateral relationship in world politics. The "Made in China" safety scare is being fanned into a slash-and-burn conflagration by American politicians who either are happy to destroy what the Bush and Clinton administrations have managed to achieve in relations with Beijing or have no idea of what they are doing.

Some of the posturing in Washington could be viewed as comic if the stakes were not so serious. Senior Illinois Democratic senator Dick Durbin and others are actually calling for a ban on all toys exported from China to the United States. "We have to do something in Washington to give confidence to consumers across America that when they go into the toy store, they aren't going to play Chinese roulette trying to figure out which toy they can safely buy for their children." He actually said this.

Then there is a Heritage Foundation researcher in Washington who offers more idiocy, "China is absolutely a key player in screwing the Americans every chance they get." Really?

The fact of the matter is that the Chinese are only partially responsible for the tainted-import crisis, which included seafood and pet food as well as other products such as toys. Bottom-line-fixated American toy companies and mega-size discount chains that chose not to look too carefully or inspect properly added to the mess. And U.S. regulatory agencies (underfunded and undermanned) allowed these seriously defective and sometimes dangerous products to come into the country and sit enticingly on retail shelves. When you combine greed and incompetence, you get a powerful force for trouble.

This is not to let the Chinese off the hook by any means. We argued in early July that China needed to get a grip on the quality control of its product lines-and fast. Ordinarily, it should be noted, the government and the political culture of the People's Republic of China move with the speed of an oil tanker in drydock. But in this case, China, where booming export sales have been fuelling its impressive economic growth year after year, has been anything but unresponsive.

Its latest urgent move was to create a new agency for product quality headed by the near-legendary Wu Yi. Not many in the West know much about this woman, but for those who do, let us just say she is an extremely strong-willed, accomplished negotiator, with a steadfastly determined disposition. You can be sure that everyone took notice when she was announced as the chief head-cracker for China's great product-improvement leap forward.

But whether China, even under Madam Wu, can get its arms around the export quality issue quickly enough remains to be seen. What's not uncertain is the need for the United States itself to do two things.

One is to cut out the blame-gaming of China and accept responsibility for monitoring product safety here, whether the imports come from a huge place like China with 1.3 billion people (of which some inevitably are crooks and incompetents) or from relatively minuscule countries that don't have 6 million different things going on at the same time.

The second need is for American politicians to stop playing with fire. For starters, how about showing some humility, for once? Let's face it, our own exports are not always such a prize. Think of the foreign purchases of American hedge funds that now look pretty shaky indeed; and what's the quality-control track record of many U.S. car exports?

Let us not forget that the central bank of China owns a colossal amount of U.S. Treasury notes that, should it angrily (and unwisely) begin dumping for other currencies, could trigger something like financial chaos in the United States.

The key point that all Americans must keep in mind is that the bilateral relationship with China takes in huge and important matters. Imports and exports are part of it, but an even more important part is the security situation in Asia, in which the Chinese, to date, have played a responsible role. Other major issues include cooperation on the environment, internationally communicable diseases and, of course, terrorism. The list is long indeed.

The perceptive Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is a strong U.S. supporter, has warned that if America chooses to pick a fight with China, "there will be very big trouble."

It's time to stop toying around with Sino-U.S. relations.

Failed Role of America


Generally, the safety of China's exports, especially food, is as good as commodities of the same type produced in other countries and regions and even slightly better, as indicated by relevant statistics available from

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