China Week: Typhoons to tantrums
- 25 July 2014
- From the section Asia
I've been chasing a tricky story this week - endless assignations with strangers in hotel rooms. (Don't ask… it'll all become clear soon!) But while I was waiting for planes (delayed by air force exercises and a typhoon) and waiting for no-show interviewees (terrified of retribution from the organisation I'm trying to report on), these are the stories that caught my attention:
Food glorious food
It's been a sickening week for Shanghai's Husi Foods after a TV expose showed staff mixing expired meat into products supplied to the big chains like McDonald's, KFC and Starbucks. By midweek, arrests were under way and China's food inspectors were out doing spot raids on Husi facilities nationwide.
But while state media thunder against the company, three things strike me. Firstly, yet again China's regulators fail to do their job. They carry out inspections, but they don't discover the problems, let alone deal with them.
Secondly, the entire episode is a demonstration - yet again - of the value of investigative journalism at a time when the Chinese government is relentlessly tightening the straitjacket on reporting with ever more punitive regulations.
Thirdly, despite the furore in the media, most ordinary Chinese I talk to about the rotten meat saga say they'll carry on eating at the big international chains. However unsatisfactory standards may be there, the consensus view is that they are probably worse in small local companies which are less accountable on where they buy their food and what they do with it.
Party time for the one-party survivors
Caption for this photo anyone? President Xi Jinping with former Cuban strongman Fidel Castro - oh, to be a fly on the wall! Xi Jinping was wrapping up a Latin American tour which started at the Brics summit in Brazil with the triumphal launch of the Brics bank (headquarters Shanghai).
He then took the China charm-offensive to a string of other countries whose relations with the US are bumpy or worse - Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba. The message: "We'll buy your oil, we'll build your infrastructure and we'll fund your debt." America's backyard is China's new frontier.
Build it, don't build it?
I notice that state newspaper Global Times says China will build a rail line through Tibet to the borders with India, Nepal and Bhutan. But the same paper reports that a line from Kunming in southwest China through Myanmar to the Indian Ocean will not go ahead due to public opposition in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Always worth keeping an eye on the ups and downs of China's rail diplomacy.
'Revenge against society'
Public safety is still a preoccupation after two young men set themselves and others on fire on buses in Guangzhou and Hangzhou earlier this month. This week it became clear that both were loners with money worries rather than dedicated terrorists. The discussion: should China put a security officer on every bus? Or do more to tackle the desperation of society's losers so that they don't resort to torching themselves and their fellow citizens?
No "big brother, little brother" this week, no talk of being "close as lips and teeth". The North Koreans are angry with their mighty neighbour.
"Some spineless countries are blindly following the stinking bottom of the US," stormed Pyongyang's National Defence Commission, accusing the same unnamed country of trying to embrace the "pathetic" South Korean president.
What did Beijing do to provoke this outburst? It joined the UN Security Council in denouncing Pyongyang's latest missile launch last week, it's been withholding oil supplies so that North Korean officials are reportedly reduced to travelling by bike and, in an unprecedented snub, Xi Jinping visited South Korea before going to pay a call on old allies in the North.