I read the Wall Street Journal every morning and find it an invaluable chronicle of global business. The one thing it's not known for, though, is having much of a sense of humor, which is why I did a double-take when I saw the headline on today's Opinion page: "China Stands for Quality." Since when, I wondered, did the WSJ indulge in such deadpan irony?
On closer examination, though, the op-ed in question is written by Wu Yi, vice premier of China. Now, it's certainly not unprecedented for the WSJ to give some of its editorial space to politicians, even foreign politicians they do that all the time. And the WSJ is, if anything, quite blatantly pro-China in its cover of global business. But even so, some of the statements by Ms. Wu are, if nothing else, certainly eyebrow-raisers.
Take this one, delivered I should point out by a high-ranking member of China's Communist party:
"Putting people first" is the principle followed by the Chinese government as it works to meet its people's growing material needs."
Or consider this remark, referring to concerns about the quality of China's exported food products: "We are keenly aware that even if 10,000 quality products are sold, just one defective product that finds its way to market will harm the interest of the consumer who buys it." I suppose that's one way to look at it; another might be to question why MILLIONS of defective products made in China have been recalled in the past year.
Today the United States and China signed a series of agreements aimed at safeguarding the quality of food and pharmaceuticals exported to the U.S. I don't find a whole lot of reassurance, though, in Ms. Wu's attempts to explain away all the concerns consumers have about the quality of Chinese goods. She writes, for instance, that "individual cases involving product quality and food safety ought to be handled for what they are, and one should resist the temptation to jump to sweeping conclusions about them." Again, I salute Ms. Wu for her ability to see the silver lining amonst all those storm clouds, but I would suggest that the reports of tainted or defective tires, petfood, toys, games, baby carriers, laptop batteries, toothpaste, seafood that number in the MILLIONS of products goes a bit beyond the definition of "individual cases." I'm thinking the WSJ should've probably rewritten the headline of this op-ed to say, "Communist China Really, Really Would Love to Stand for Quality, But It's Got Quite A Ways to Go Yet," but maybe that took up too much space.
In any event, it'll be interesting to see if these new agreements have any teeth to them, or if they're just PR stunts.