Thursday, August 16, 2007
Perceptions and Reality
A colleague is leaving to pursue a fellowship on human rights in Sweden. It's a two-year program sponsored by the UN.
We sent him off gourmet style at Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant. I know... my third time here, but it's one of the best restaurants in Beijing. And this time in addition to duck, we had this dish of stir-fried bamboo shoots with preserved vegetable, presented with bamboo!
Over Carlsberg and good food, my coworker asked me what people's perceptions of China were in my homeland.
The question put me on the spot and I knew I had to walk a fine line. You want to tell the truth, but at the same time, lessen the blow.
I said that there is talk about China becoming a superpower, economically, politically and militarily. While it hasn't reached that status yet, the country is definitely one that cannot be ignored in geopolitics.
I added that people are concerned about Chinese-made toys that use dangerous materials, and that they wonder if the food they are eating is safe.
My colleague and his friend pointed out that some kind of watchdog needed to be put in place, some kind of checks and balances. But at the same time they worried that if this supervisory body was set up by the government, there would be more opportunities for corruption and bribery.
It's a tough call. There are so many thousands of producers, from those of food to clothing and toys. It's so hard for a watchdog to have enough inspectors and enough "mechanisms" (their favourite jargon for checks and balances) that it's almost impossible to regulate these industries thoroughly and to a consistent standard.
The two used the same excuse that China is so large, with so many people. While that's true, there has to be some kind of way to make sure top-down decisions are carried out effectively and efficiently. The government tries to show it's doing something through reports in the media, but it's only when we see with our own eyes the changes do we believe real reform is happening.