Now in the West, China ever-present

It is no longer possible, perhaps, to ignore China and its relationship with the US and the rest of the world. Especially as our world grows more and more connected, interactions, whether economic, environmental, or cultural, are taking place with greater frequency and density, what happens in one place can have significant impact on what happens in another.

After my studies in China, I am glad that the media is making it easy to keep that country in mind. The talk of China, however, does not necessarily reflect pacific relations. One of the hottest issues at the moment, of course, is the string of Chinese made products, imported into the United States, that have been found to be dangerous or flawed.

Notable among these products are the toys with the Mattel logo that contained lead. Despite the fact that the Mattel company came out today with an apology, saying that it was a design problem instead of the fault of the Chinese factory (CTV.ca), people in America have started questioning many of the products that are manufactured in China.

Consumers in the United States are now, more than ever, suspicious of any products coming out of China, despite the fact that the market in everything from toys to electronics has been dominated by Chinese exports. The effect on the buying habits of Americans is yet to be seen. Mike, co-owner of Andao Tea, fears the worst. He and his partner have spent the past few years establishing a tea exporting business, searching out certified organic tea plantations and distributors, making sure that the leaves lived up their high standards. Mike is especially concerned that the concern over Chinese made products will hit the specialty markets especially hard, whereas mass producers and manufacturers will easily weather the crisis. He is frustrated, since he is pinning the success of his company on building a brand that is of a reliably high quality.

Mattel’s recent apology adds to the story. During my time in China, I was admittedly surprised by the high quality of the Chinese made products that were sold domestically. Like many Americans, “Made in China” has always carried a connotation of cheap and mass-produced. In retrospect, I should not have been surprised that an increasingly afluent Chinese population would demand products of high quality, like anywhere in the States, yet this was the case. You could find the cheap plastic toys, but high quality brands were more in demand. There were, during my time in China, cases of flawed products or tainted manufactured foods, but they seemed to be highly publicized, and the authorities made sure that someone took the blame (“making an example” of someone seemed to be a popular tactic of the government).

What Mattel’s confession, along with the statements of many Chinese manufacturers, shows is that the foreign companies that commission Chinese factories ought to shoulder a good deal of the blame for flawed, and sometimes deadly, products. These corporations seem to be more eager to have their goods produced at the lowest possible price, looking the other way or even ordering the cutting of corners or compromises in materials, or the working conditions of the laborers, for that matter. The Chinese factories, thriving in a booming economy that is partly if not mostly fueled by the huge export industry, are happy to give the international companies what they want.

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