China: Poison

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September 24, 2008:  Although the United States is the major trading partner for China, the enemies of America are also major customers for Chinese weapons. Iran, Venezuela and any dictator with cash can buy weapons from China. Other things are for sale, like the diplomatic veto China possess by virtue of its permanent seat on the UN security council. This gives the Chinese government more power abroad than at home. A food processor scandal (industrial chemicals being used illegally, and poisoning infants, young children, and even adults) has caused a growing panic over the safety of processed foods. The deaths of about a dozen infants, and nearly 100,000 getting sick, has led the public to fear massive damage to an entire generation. The Internet and cell phone chatter is out of (government) control, and the security forces do not know where this might go.

The Chinese are learning a lesson absorbed in the West a century ago; without regulation, intense competition in the food business will produce food contamination. It happened in the U.S. and Europe in the late 19th century. It's happened in other developing countries under similar circumstances (but not to a large enough extent to make the news in the West). The Chinese scandal is huge, even by Chinese standards. Even people in the military and security forces are grumbling about the safety of their food. Thus, twice in one year, the government has to come up with some innovative method for defusing a potential mass uprising. First earthquakes and shoddy schools collapsing, now this. What next?

September 23, 2008: The Chinese military held several days of exercises near the capital. The main purpose was to test the ability of forces from all the services to rapidly communicate and coordinate combat operations. The model for all this is what Western, particularly American, forces have been doing in the past decade. Chinese military analysts have been watching U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and trying to extract useful lessons.

September 13, 2008: The government admitted that milk companies have been adding industrial  chemicals to baby formula (to increase the protein content, required to make the formula nutritious enough to sustain infants). Chinese food processors have been cheating with food additives for years, and were caught out last year when this practice created dog food, exported to the United States, that killed family pets. Then it was found to have gotten into human food as well. China promised to improve its quality control. But that attitude did not reach the Chinese baby food industry, and now, because most Chinese mothers use formula rather than breast feeding, a generation has been poisoned. The population is enraged and the Internet again made it impossible to control the story. The modern police state, as effective as it is, depends on control of the mass media to work. The Chinese government fears the worst from this loss of media control, although reformers in the government see the Internet as a tool to force reforms and a decrease in corrupt practices.

September 6, 2008: The government continues to face hundreds of large scale demonstrations a week. These are caused by perceived injustices, like the death of a child in an industrial accident, large scale fraud or corruption. Over a 100,000 riot police are on constant stand-by for this all over the country, and soldiers train for riot control duties, and are also on call. But this is often inadequate. That's because a new form of mob protest has developed, using the Internet and cell phones (texting) to arouse and organize large numbers of people to go out and do something. The government fears that eventually these Internet inspired mobs will go after corrupt officials and police.

September 4, 2008: A Chinese government committee admitted that lack of supervision allowed corrupt officials and builders constructed shoddy schools during the last decade of economic boom. Most of those schools collapsed during  the central China earthquakes earlier this year. The deaths of over 10,000 children inside collapsed schools caused much public anger. The government kept all this under control by paying parents of dead children cash settlements, but demanding they agree to keep quiet. Very clever, and effective. Now the truth can comes out, when it's relatively say to do so.

 

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