jump to navigation

Japan-China Relations: The Power of Gyoza March 20, 2008

Posted by genchan in Asian, China, Food, Health, Japan, Politics.
2 comments

Who would have thought that gyozas can become an issue affecting high level bilateral ties between two nations. Then again, nothing seems too surprising when it comes to Sino-Japanese relationship. For those who are fully aware of the icy thin political relations between the two Asian giants, one can’t help but ponder what next.

The gyoza saga is receiving high level attention simply because proper mechanisms are not in place to handle such incidents at the lower level. Certainly, more of such issues would crop up in the not-so-distant future considering the fact that bilateral trade is on the rise and the demand for cheaper food products is there in Japan.

However, cheaper foods can also mean improper food preparation to cut cost. This is where the gap lies – the stringent requirements of food preparation by the Japanese and the lack of legislation to ensure food safety by the Chinese. Unless the gap can be substantially reduced through mechanisms of understanding and enforcement, incidents such as the gyoza issue will continue to prevent healthy recovery of bilateral ties.

—————————————————————

Tainted ‘gyoza’ poisoning bilateral ties

By Frank Ching (The Japan Times, Monday, March 17, 2008)

HONG KONG — The tainted “gyoza” dumpling scare in Japan has caused the delay of President Hu Jintao’s visit to Tokyo and, if not properly handled, could result in the unraveling of the dramatic improvement in bilateral relations achieved since October 2006, when Shinzo Abe broke the ice by visiting Beijing shortly after he became prime minister, followed by Premier Wen Jiabao’s “ice melting” trip to Japan last spring.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda added to the momentum when he visited Beijing and other cities in China last December and invited President Hu Jintao to visit Japan in the spring, “when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.”

Much hinges on this pending visit, which will be the first Chinese presidential visit to Japan in a decade and will fall on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty in 1978.

In the dumpling incident, 10 people were taken ill after eating imported Chinese dumplings tainted with an organo-phosphate insecticide called methamidophos. The subsequent media frenzy resulted in thousands of others reporting that they, too, felt sick after eating imported Chinese dumplings.

Consumption of Chinese food plummeted from 57.9 percent before the incident to 21.6 percent afterward. Kyodo News conducted a telephone survey and found that 75.9 percent of respondents said that they “will not use Chinese food from now on.”

China is Japan’s second-largest source of food imports after the United States and accounts for over half its imported frozen products, so the economic impact can be huge. But even more important is the potential damage to the political relationship between the two countries, which has only started to mend recently.

Although both countries agreed to cooperate in investigations into the dumpling incident, their respective investigative agencies ended up arguing over the origin of the toxins found in the dumplings.

Chinese officials have cleared Tianyang Food, in Shijiazhuang, in Hebei province, which made the dumplings, saying its strict quality-control measures make it almost impossible to introduce toxic substances. Chinese police have said there was little chance the dumplings were contaminated in China, directly contradicting the position taken by Japanese police.

Japanese investigators have noted that methamidophos is banned in Japan and so it is unlikely that the contamination took place in Japan.

China is saying that this is not a case of food safety, but rather of sabotage by someone who wants to harm Japan-China relations.

Well, if that is the case, the saboteur has been incredibly successful, as China and Japan are trading accusations. And now, the Hu visit, originally planned for late March or April, has been pushed back to the middle of May.

Moreover, the two sides have still not reached agreement on the dispute over gas exploration in the East China Sea, where there are overlapping territorial claims. They have agreed on the principle of joint development but, so far, there has been no agreement on the exact location where drilling will take place.

However, China has reportedly agreed to recognize a Japanese-drawn median line in the East China Sea. Even if this median line is acknowledged simply for the purposes of joint exploration and not territorial sovereignty, it is still a major step forward.

China’s ambassador to Japan, Cui Tiankai, has said the issue will be sorted out before President Hu’s trip. This issue, too, could cause a delay of the presidential visit.

What with the Abe-Wen-Fukuda visits, the two countries have been on a roll, and momentum for the improvement of relations has been building up over the last 17 months. However, if the dumpling issue and the East China Sea dispute continue to drag on, this momentum could be lost.

Actually, if need be, the two countries can set aside the dumpling issue and focus on the bigger issue of food safety. On that, it is clear, their interests are identical. China needs to export and Japan needs to import food, and this can only work if steps are taken to ensure that the food is safe from production through its appearance on supermarket shelves.

The disclosure that the Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress, is considering food safety legislation is an encouraging sign and, one hopes, the saga of tainted Chinese food products may be coming to an end.

A breakthrough on the East China Sea is also vital. The presidential trip cannot be delayed indefinitely. The cherry blossoms, after all, start to bloom in late March and it is a stretch to say that they are still blooming in mid-May. But there can be no further delay.

New Malaysian Politics – NEP still matters? March 14, 2008

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Malaysia, Politics.
2 comments

Been thinking about what the recent 2008 general election in Malaysia meant for the NEP – an affirmative action program put in place by the ruling government in the early 1970s to assist the poor Malays.

If the article below is of any indication, the NEP that has often been used to rally support from the Malays comes election in the past no longer seemed effective. The idea that the Malays need to depend on the ruling government for their economic well being through the NEP seems less realistic today than 10 or 20 years ago.

The ability of the Opposition to wrestle and legitimately set up their governments in five states could indicate that the Malays are comfortable of their socio-economic standing and are eager to compete on a level playing field. This notion is supported by the fact that the Opposition will be dismantling the NEP based on race and replacing it with one based on need.

Obviously, old politics no longer hold. This could well signal the emergence of a matured civil society capable of making decisions without emotional attachments. Such an emergence, if holds true, could bode well for the country’s shift towards a more participatory and open democracy.

Postscript (17 March): To be certain, the NEP no longer exists since 1990 when it was replaced by the New Development Policy (NDP). However, critics observed that it was more of a name change than real substance primarily because many of the tangible economic benefits offered under the NEP policies continue to exist. Thus, the discussion here focuses more on that than the literal sense.

——————————————————–

Nazri: We may see end of NEP

KUALA LUMPUR: The election results signal the beginning of the possible demise of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and special rights for the Malays, said Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

The Umno supreme council member said it appeared that the Malays, especially in the town areas, had become more confident now and felt they could compete with the other races on a level playing field.

“We (Umno) have to really sit down and think. It looks like the educated Malays do not care about Malay rights anymore,” he said when contacted.

“The Malay doctors, lawyers, engineers feel they have made it on their own merit.

“It looks like the NEP is not something that can be used to persuade the Malays to support the Barisan Nasional.

“The Malays are saying ‘you can’t scare us by talking about us losing our rights, because we are here on our own merit’.”

Nazri said it looked like some Malays felt that the NEP was unfair, and questioned

why special rights should be given to the Malays.

He described the new confidence among the Malays as good for the Malay psyche.

In the just concluded election, the Barisan only managed a simple majority in Parliament, and lost five states (Kedah, Selangor, Kelantan, Penang and Perak) to the Opposition.

The Opposition had largely said they would dismantle the NEP and put in a place a new affirmative action policy based on need rather than race.

Nazri, who retained his Padang Rengas

parliamentary seat by a majority of

1,749 votes, said he barely survived the political tsunami.

He said the youngsters – Chinese, Indians and Malays – who returned from Kuala Lumpur to vote in Perak had tried to persuade their parents, who are Barisan supporters, to either not go out to vote or vote for the Opposition.

“I only survived because of my personal touch with the voters,” he said.

He believed the political landscape in the country had changed irreversibly and that all parties would now have to work harder.

“Every wakil rakyat will have to work to win the hearts of the people. This is good for Malaysia because, at the end of the day, it is the rakyat who benefits,” he said.

Malaysian Election 2008: Towards New Politics March 10, 2008

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Malaysia, Politics.
add a comment

The 12th Malaysian general election was held on the 8th of March 2008 (Saturday). 13 days of election campaign saw a fiesta of banners, posters, party flags, talks, dinners and seminars as candidates of both ruling and opposition parties went all out to woo the people with their manifestos and pledges. stateseats1.jpg

As the polls closed at 5 pm, news about the results began to spread that started from around 7 pm and went on throughout the night. Thanks to the advancement of IT, handphones and SMS became the main channel in spreading the unofficial results of both state and parlimentary seats.

Unlike the 2004 general election, this round saw some monumental changes in Malaysian politics whereby states that were strongholds of the ruling party fell to the opposition camp. If 2004 saw one state under the opposition, 2008 saw a record five. Apart from Kelantan (PAS), Penang (DAP-PKR), Kedah (PAS), Perak and Selangor (PKR) will see new leaderships. It is a record indeed simply for the fact that never in the history of Malaysia have so many states been lost to the opposition since Malaysia gained independence 50 years ago.

Overall, Barisan Nasional (the ruling party) continues to run the country, not with a 2/3 majority (like in 2004) but a simple majority. The implications are such that the new BN government would be facing a tougher time in making laws and passing bills due to a louder opposition voice now taking office in parliament. Government actions would also be more closely scrutinized and carefully watched.

As for the states under opposition rule, there will be some exciting times ahead as the new local governments bring in their own brand of politics. The mandate for the new brand has been given by the people. The hope of the people is that this new brand would taste sweeter, better and more oomph than the old brand. However, whether it will come true or not remains to be seen.

As test cases, what transpires in those five states in the next five years could have serious implications for the future of Malaysian politics and as such should not be taken lightly. One can equally expect the ruling government to soul-search and work to win back the hearts of the people that it has unwittingly lost.

Malaysians are in for an exciting and important journey as politics in the country takes a new turn.

One thing seems to be clear from this election is that what once used to be blue does not continue to stay blue forever…  

For some more info on the election, see
http://thestar.com.my/election/

http://thestar.com.my/election/results/results.html