Hu Jintao visits Hanoi, Vietnam
Hu Jintao visits Hanoi, Vietnam

Hu's on First?

Nov 27, 2007

(Posted with permission from The National Interest )

IN RECENT issues of The National Interest, there have been a series of articles that take China’s rise to both regional and global pre-eminence as a given. But it is worth stepping back to take a sober look at some of the very real challenges China faces—and in particular, how China’s neighbors assess these developments. Sometimes the view from Washington and New York can be a bit overly optimistic.

Of course, over the past six months, that confidence about China’s continued progress was shaken as governments across the world witnessed an explosion of terrifying stories about Chinese exports. News reports detailed toothpaste tainted with poisons, fake baby formula and pet food packed with illegal substances. Though China vowed better safety standards—and executed the head of its own food and drug administration—it also stonewalled in many cases, blaming complaints on overaggressive foreign news reporters and claiming that American exports also can be dangerous.

For leaders in Southeast Asia, the problems of China, its giant neighbor, can have a more immediate impact—as they found out when the SARS crisis, initially covered up by China, quickly spread across Asia and decimated the region’s economies. Over the summer, Southeast Asian reporters learned of another terrifying outbreak of disease in China. A mysterious illness in Guangdong province was causing pigs to bleed to death. Gruesome foreign TV and newspaper reports described bloody pigs staggering around, panicked Chinese farmers trying to sell their hogs en masse and rivers filled with pig carcasses. Southeast Asian officials worried about whether the pig disease would spread into their nations. Yet once again, the Chinese government did almost nothing. In fact, in China itself, few people even seemed to know about the pig illness. Chinese state media had not reported on the Guangdong disaster, and even well-informed businesspeople in Shanghai had heard little about it.

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