Sue Chinese, Bless US Lawmakers
By Oh Young-jin
Assistant Managing Editor
First, condolences to four Chinese babies who died of melamine-laced baby formula and their bereaved families. Second, get-well-soon wishes to tens of thousands who remain sick. Third, I may need a medical checkup and recommend it for hundreds of thousands of consumers around the world who have consumed foods and food ingredients from China with fine-print labeling on the back of bottles, plastic bags and paper cartoons filling shelves on neighborhood supermarkets or big discount retailers.
Scaremongering? I have not even started it yet. But for space consideration, I go to the next stage ― giving Sanlu and its partial owner Fonterra of New Zealand, which made that tainted formula, the major dressing-down they deserve.
By almost all indications, Sanlu knew well in advance of cases of sickness among infants that had been fed their baby formula but according to reports, tried to cover it up. For Fonterra, it also became aware of its defective products before the Beijing Olympics but claimed that it had acquiesced to Chinese partners' refusal to conduct a public recall. A shame on their conscience!
This formula scandal, however, is an isolated case that reveals something of the big picture at the core of the values of a new China.
Less than five months ago, an earthquake hit Sichuan in the heart of China, with nearly 90,000 killed or listed missing, 400,000 injured and millions left homeless. Many of the casualties were children who were in classroom whose shabbily-built school buildings collapsed. Chinese Premier Wen Jibao took on the role of a national avuncular figure giving consolations to the victims and providing assurances for a nation in shock.
It took less than five months for Wen to appear back on stage and play the same part.
My question is ``Are these two incidents dues Chinese have to pay on its path toward modernization?" I think not. It is just a case of incompetent bureaucracy combined with the public's lack of an ability to get indignant. A cure to this malady starts with the Chinese public's demand for accountability at the highest level. Accountable communism may sound oxymoronic but Chinese have done so much in so short a period of time and anything appears to be possible when they put their mind to it.
There are a couple of things that can be done from outside without risking accusations from Beijing of meddling in its internal politics. First, bring litigation en masse to Sanlu and, Fonterra, for damages. Recalls of products containing their ingredients are being conducted in scores of countries, with millions of consumers in a food funk. Then, companies and countries doing business with China should take this case to their heart so they won't hesitate to take on the role of whistleblower. If they want China to grow and gain from a bigger and responsible China, it is their role to share it with their past experiences.
US vs. China ― Same Difference? A Resounding No
Maybe, it is not Wall Street but rather Yahoo that is more wrong with the American system today. When I checked in for CBS' 60 Minutes for an interview with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Yahoo forced me to watch an advertisement about the ``Clearblu'' pregnancy test on a repeated basis. I suspect that there was a subliminal message at work ― telling me that I have to buy it for myself, if not for my wife. Momentarily, I got lost and thought that I was on Yahoo for this OB/GY ad but I overcame this to finally watch a one-and-half minute teaser. Paulson said in it that excess had long been built before he took the job and it was a humbling experience to go around for help with cap in hand, citing financial crises in recent memory that took place outside the United States.
First, I hope that the $700 billion bailout package will clear Congress next time when it hits the floor.
Anything that big should have a legitimate public purpose but it doesn't in its current form. Protagonists ― President Bush, Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke as well as a posse of Democratic leaders ― tried a fear-based hard sell to global citizens as well as American taxpayers, saying that, if they didn't accept it, they would not even get unemployment benefits. Even eggheads who should know better aided and abetted in the White House effort, saying that the Wall Street meltdown was the financial equivalent of 9/11 and the package was better than doing nothing.
But, it was fat cats in Wall Street and an eight-year Republican rule on the ``no regulation is better regulation'' philosophy that has brought down the house. Then, why should ordinary people take the fall?
The House's rejection of the bill is the first important piece of evidence that the American system is still responsive to public indignation and raises a hope that this financial mess can be cleaned in a way that can help correct the flaws and beef up the system. This also shows a gulf of differences between America and China ― both of them owning a large chunk of their economies. For alarmists, admit that the rejected bill was intended to beat ups and downs of a cycle in a way that Wall Street tried to sell unlimited credit. A more honest approach is needed.
A little reminder is that it is the duty of American taxpayers and other nations to watch out for the process and make sure that any rescue is for people who should really count ― people who are facing prospects of foreclosures or people who are at the risk of losing their lifesavings.
McCain vs. DJ ― Another Revolt
In late 1997, Korea experienced the first wave of fury from the currency crisis. IMF managing director Michel Camdessu was the commander of the financial martial law also representing Wall Street that gave Korea an ultimatum ― accept a bitter pill of free market reform to its truest meaning or no bailout or else. That emergency situation also produced an electoral outcome that had by then been considered impossible ― the election of Kim Dae-jung or often known as his initials ― DJ ― as president.
Kim, a lifetime freedom fighter, carried what was considered a political stigma in that he is from Honam, western region. That stigma may be comparable to being black in terms of impossible odds to get elected as president. Honam was a rival to Yongnam, the eastern region from which Park Chung-hee, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo all hail. Roh's successor was President Kim Young-sam, also from Yongnam, who faced the 1997 crisis on his watch. The December election, in a sense, turned into public trial of sorts about three decades of misrule by Yongnam and produced an upset. Can Obama beat long odds and obvious handicaps and repeat what DJ did a decade ago, come November?