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A Rising China Must Have Business Morals

By TAN POH KHENG/Translated by DOMINIC LOH, Sin Chew Jit Poh, Malaysia
September 24, 2008

About the same time last year, I wrote an article titled "Souring of 'Made In China' Products" in this column to slam the poor safety of Chinese manufactured products. Despite the fact that my article was later greeted with a called-in condemnation from a reader claiming to be from China, I felt I had not done anything wrong. Based on the conscience and moral standarads a news commentator was supposed to have, I still had to pen the article although I knew it might infuriate some people, with the hope that readers would be suitably warned against dangerous products.

In just about a year, the toxic milk scandal happens in China, and has raised alarms in places from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe, America, to much of Asia. As the saying goes, a tiny spark could torch the entire forest. The scandal may have already dented the reputation and integrity China has worked so hard to establish during the recent Beijing Olympics.

In China, dangerous food products are by no means a novelty, with plenty of products not meeting the most fundamental hygiene requirements. Having said that, it is an utter shock to the world that toxic melamine has been immorally added to milk powder, almost the only food consumed by infants, putting millions of innocent little lives under serious threat.

Not one, but at least 22 companies have included melamine in their milk powder, while many other brands of dairy products have also been found to contain banned ingredients which could pose serious dangers to our body.

The vast variety of toxic foods, the intensity of their harms to infants, and the extent of influences they have on affected companies, have shocked the Chinese people worldwide. The moral depravation and a serious dearth of business ethics have also put the global Chinese community in deep embarrassment.

Since China introduced the open-door policy in the 1980s, "Made In China" products have found ready markets across the world. Chinese products are found in almost every store in the world, from mass produced poor quality products to luxurious outlets in the West, showing that faith in Chinese made products has been established in oversea markets.

Nonetheless, the foundation of such a great wall of faith is beginning to become shaky with news of flawed products continue to be reported in the media worldwide in recent years. And the most recent toxic milk scandal has dealt a further blow, perhaps a major one, on the already shaky faith in products with "Made In China" tags.

The Malaysian health ministry has also instructed to ban the import of all dairy products from China, including many that adults today loved when they were little kids. Before 22 September, many children were still munching the famous "Big Rabbit" milk candy imported from China.

The health ministry has sent enforcement personnel to confiscate "Big Rabbit" milk candy and other related products while issuing a ban on their imports, after Singapore has found melamine in the candy.

In other words, before this scandal is made public, "Big Rabbit" milk candy and other dairy products from China containing the toxic ingredient melamine have been selling in the local market "safely."

If this incident has not been disclosed, does it mean our children will continue to take in these toxic candy and chocolates?

While immoral Chinese manufacturers of these toxic products are the main culprits, government agencies responsible for the monitoring and inspection of product quality must also not be spared from the blame.

While China must build its diplomatic, political and military strengths as it portraits itself as an emerging superpower, the country simply cannot afford to discard business morality.

How do we expect a country that is in serious lack of business morals to gain respect, and be seen as an equal partner in the international community?

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