China: Tainted Milk, Tainted Government
Posted by Author on November 12, 2010
Wall Street Journal, N0v.11, 2010 –
When Chinese milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine killed at least six infants and made 300,000 others sick in 2008, authorities moved to contain the damage, arresting dozens of dairy producers and local officials and executing two of them. But they also muzzled activists who publicized the problem and sought justice for the victims’ families.
On Wednesday, the most prominent of these troublemakers, Zhao Lianhai, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for “inciting social disorder.” Mr. Zhao, whose son fell ill from drinking baby formula laced with melamine, created a web site to help other families with sick children share information about suing the government. Police harassed him for months and then took him into custody in November 2009, where for three months he was denied access to lawyers. Even when he was finally allowed counsel and a trial, Mr. Zhao and his legal team were not allowed to call witnesses in his defense.
Meanwhile, new cases of melamine contamination continue to arise. A food-safety law passed last year imposed sweeping new regulations and strengthened centralized control of food production at every step of the process. But widespread corruption within local-government watchdogs means that many producers continue to find ways around the rules.
The real issue is the Communist Party’s aversion to transparency. Beijing officially encourages people to expose corruption and then punishes any organized effort to do so. Like those who agitated for tougher enforcement of building standards after a devastating earthquake in 2008, Mr. Zhao and other vocal parents of sickened children were punished for carrying out their duty as citizens.
There are some reasons to be hopeful. Although domestic journalists weren’t permitted to cover the melamine story until after the Beijing Olympics ended, local papers appear freer of late to report on such scandals as they happen. The public has become more aware of the problems as a result.
But so long as their government prefers to suppress discussion of issues it deems “sensitive” once they are exposed, concerned Chinese consumers will be unable to press for the reforms needed to prevent future incidents. Real social disorder will be the result if others don’t take up the fight that Mr. Zhao started.
- Click to email (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
- Click to print (Opens in new window)
This entry was posted on November 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm and is filed under Activist, China, Health, Law, News, People, Politics, Social, World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.