Monday, July 30, 2007



In Sunday’s Times, “China Moves to Refurbish a Damaged Global Image” documents Beijing’s belated efforts to institute top-down quality control and, more importantly from a public-diplomacy standpoint, show the world that it is doing so:

Last week, Beijing unveiled new controls aimed at fighting counterfeit drugs and substandard exports. High-ranking officials and regulators vowed to strengthen China’s food safety system, tighten controls over chemical use by large seafood and meat producers, and create a system that holds producers more accountable for selling unsafe products.

The government also announced that it had broken up a series of criminal rings that operated huge manufacturing centers, producing goods as varied as pirated Microsoft software, fake Viagra and imitation Crest toothpaste.

Authorities here have also reached out to Ogilvy Public Relations, an international corporate consultancy on crisis management.

As the article notes, Beijing has instituted reform drives before, only to see its efforts against corruption, food adulteration, and product counterfeiting peter out after weeks or months once public attention shifted elsewhere. These programs have for years spawned jokes among China-watchers about the Four Must-Nots, the Five Better-Do-Its and the Three Deadly Appositives. Perhaps China’s new list-based slogans will be export-based, e.g. the Three Must-Not-Adulterates: Tickle Me Elmo dolls, pet foods and erectile dysfunction drugs, in rough order of overseas outrage.

Ogilvy PR certainly has Chinese government officials keeping a higher profile, the better to publicize their reform efforts:

“They have not historically been advice takers,” said Scott Kronick, president of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide China, part of the WPP Group. “But they are reaching out in a genuine way to seek advice. I think they recognize everything doesn’t have to be rosy.”

Since then, officials from various regulatory agencies and ministries have held news conferences to announce new regulations or to brief the news media on successful crackdowns.

The PRC has lurched in just two decades from a corrupt overly controlled economy to a corrupt minimally controlled one. But as the Times article notes, China has 5,000 companies that produce medicine alone, and the PRC will have to backtrack toward its over-regulated past in order to arrive at a system that satisfies its trading partners of the safety and efficacy of Chinese products.

As long as those trading partners can make noise about China’s unsafe exports—China, through its inaction, is poisoning our pets and toothpaste—the PRC’s other public-diplomacy efforts will stall.

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