Japan-China food row resurfaces

By Hiroyuki Koshoji
UPI Correspondent

Published: August 11, 2008

 

Source of Article:  http://upiasiaonline.com/Politics/2008/08/11/japan-china_food_row_resurfaces/1916/

 

Tokyo, JapanA food-poisoning issue involving Chinese-made frozen dumplings has resurfaced in Japan after a daily newspaper revealed that products made by the same Chinese factory implicated in the initial health scare early this year apparently caused similar sickness in China.

Right before the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda raised the issue in his talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"I asked Hu to make an effort to resolve the dumpling issue as soon as possible because the Japanese people are paying high attention to this issue," Fukuda told reporters after his talk with the Chinese President. "Hu said he would do his best to resolve the issue as soon as possible," Fukuda said.

At least four Chinese people fell ill in June after eating the same brand of dumplings that caused illness in Japan last January. This indicates that the pesticide, identified as the toxic substance in the dumplings, was added in China, not in Japan as China had insisted.

To add shock to the surprise, the newspaper revealed that China had notified the Japanese government of this fact in early July, even before the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations met in Japan.

After the revelation by Japan's largest-circulation daily Yomiuri Shimbun last week, Japanese media and opposition lawmakers voiced strong criticism of the government's handling of the issue and failure to clarify the situation to the Japanese public.

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura was obliged Thursday to explain that the government had withheld the facts at the request of Chinese authorities, presumably to avoid a greater stir over this issue ahead of the Olympics.

Opposition politicians kept up their criticism, however. Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said that Japan should have stood up to China and insisted on revealing the truth, even if Beijing asked it not to. He said the government was “weak-kneed” in front of China, and that its position did not reflect the mindset of the general public.

In the initial food-poisoning incident in late January, 10 Japanese citizens were sickened after eating pesticide-tainted dumplings imported from China. In the following month, China's Public Security Ministry dismissed the view prevalent in Japan that the pesticide had been mixed into the dumplings in the Chinese factory. Instead, it suggested that it had somehow been added to the product in Japan.

Friction between the two countries over who was responsible for the poisoning reached such a pitch that it resulted in the postponement of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Japan from mid-April to early May.

"Hu wants to boost relations with Japan while Fukuda, who is known as pro-China, is in office. He understands that the dumpling case is an obstacle in improving ties with Japan. So, in order to appeal that China has changed and is committed to solving the case, the Chinese authorities decided to notify (Japan) of the information," said Kou Bunyu, a noted Taiwanese commentator and expert on China issues.

According to Kou, millions of Chinese people fall ill from food poisoning every year, and as many as 200,000 deaths can be attributed to the same cause. Thus, Chinese authorities must understand that placing blame on the Japanese side in the dumpling case lacked credibility, he said.

Chinese figures for 2007 claim 13,280 cases of food poisoning and 258 deaths.

Many Japanese have raised the question as to why the dumplings continued to be distributed in China even after the factory had stopped their production and recalled the products. One Japanese TV broadcaster hinted at the answer by reporting a former employee's eyewitness account that employees of the factory routinely stole products and covered up for each other.

"There are many in China who want to buy those products at very low prices and there are many channels to distribute them," Satoshi Tomisaka, an expert on China issues, said in a TV interview broadcast Wednesday. People would sell the same products in different packages once the scandal had passed, Tomisaka said.

"China's Public Security Department, which has the world's leading information network, might have already identified the culprits,” Kou said. After the Beijing Olympic Games, he predicted, the Chinese authorities may share more information piecemeal, assessing Japan's official and popular reactions, in order to put an end to the issue.

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