Oct 1, 2008

A Preventable Tragedy

What we have here is a real-life, genuine example ... of how things can go terribly wrong in a country where the state controls the media.

I suppose the Chinese government must be feeling very pleased with its "nation-building" press.

There is an important lesson for Singaporeans here, I suspect. If only we were not too blind to see it.

China covered up milk scare to protect Olympics: critics

BEIJING (AFP) - - China knew about the contamination of milk products months ago but covered the scandal up to prevent it tarnishing the Beijing Olympics, according to journalists, rights groups and media critics.

The crisis broke in mid-September, a month after the Olympics, but several Chinese reporters had long known about babies being hospitalised after drinking tainted milk, yet were muzzled by the authorities, the critics say.

An editor at a respected southern China newspaper said that as early as July one of his reporters was investigating how milk powder might have been to blame for children developing kidney stones and falling seriously sick.

"As a news editor, I was deeply concerned because I sensed that this was going to be a huge public health disaster," Southern Weekend news editor Fu Jianfeng said on his blog.

"But I could not send any reporters out to investigate. Therefore, I harboured a deep sense of guilt and defeat at the time."

Fu's blog posting was later removed, although it could be read on some overseas Chinese websites. Fu himself could not be reached for comment.

An estimated 53,000 Chinese children have been sickened after the industrial chemical melamine was added to milk products, and four infants have died.


Anonymous said...

While the mainstream media are unapologetically pro-establishment, when it comes to important information that might impact on public welfare, they are usually quite forthright. For example, Mas Selamat's escape was very well publicised (albeit with a slight delay), in spite of the embarrassment it would bring to the government.

The mainstream media only covers up things like press freedom rankings, letters from CSJ/CSC, foreign criticism of Singapore, etc. Concealment of these information do not usually affect tangible public welfare the way covering up health threats does.

Anonymous said...

I think one from the Fourth Estate can only be a true member if he or she is not afraid to be deemed as a Fifth Columist.

Anonymous said...

did you notice everytime there's a health scare (from China or elsewhere), the authorities here will say things like 'we do not import from them', 'we import limited range from them'-do not worry etc?

Anonymous said...

The question of "What if".

If he is given the knowledge of the magnitude of the tragedy caused by his silence, would he have remain silent?

In all probability, He will still remain silent as it is still too profitable(Asian Values).

But the thing is People will be wary of "Made In China" Products (esp food) after this incident. (the profiteers lose more in the long run).

Once bitten twice shy....

Anonymous said...

As a Chinese, I am disgusted by how low we can sink.

However, I am not surprised. Too many years of repression had led to a frenzy of money-making, at any costs, using any methods.

It is common for building contractors in China to cut corner to save cost. It is common for restaurants to pass off unhealthy alternatives for legitimate chicken and pork. Over 90% of China's underground water sources are polluted. It is the same for China's lakes and rivers. Most of Asia's most polluted cities are in China. Corruption, while treated as a criminal activity, is considered socially acceptable if packaged correctly.

So, why am I not surprised when adding melamine to milk is a widespread practice throughout China's dairy industries?

Chinese who skimp on construction materials now have to breathe in air polluted by other Chinese. Chinese who poison their own lakes are now seeing their own kids poisned by milk.

What goes around comes around.

Anonymous said...

On media-control. While there may be many opinions on how SG should be run, Singaporeans have 'chosen' the current establishment characterized as being pro-business, pro-establishment, etc. Such a choice comes with its merits and demerits, and people should be wise to it.

The state of media in SG is different from China. Anyone who finds the local newsletter a pain can always access alternative sources. It's really not that bad.

Events such as the Financial Crisis, Tainted milk are a consequence of satisficed electoral choices. People deserve the Government they choose.

Anonymous said...

AFP article wrote Cadbury and Unilever products were implicated but AVA website did not list any of their products as affected.

AVA only listed 10 products tested and confirmed to contain melamine. My guess, if there is a batch of products coming in declared with some milk-based ingredients from China, but the 1 or 2 random sample items picked from the batch is not detected to contain melamine, the whole batch is passed. I concluded the above because Dutch Lady's other flavoured milk were initially declared safe from China's milk contamination, but later the Banana and Honeydew flavour are found to be tainted. Can one trust AVA or the MSM anymore?

Yet today the MSM is trumpeting about how the new Speaker's Corner is heralding "free speech" in Singapore. Actually, it's still not free speech cos one has to register with NParks in advance, and await for approval... i.e. potential for censorship.

On a separate note, a flame has just gone out in the hopes for political changes in Singapore with the passing of JBJ.

*Shakes head* Better get moving if one can.

Anonymous said...

children are innocent. they are not underlings nor are they subordinates capable of rightful insubordination in a climate of unethical practices.

Anonymous said...

at the olympics opening ceremony, I wonder how many noe abt the significance of the giant fireworks footprints approaching the stadium.

it is the equivalent of the arrival of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven. When the last footprint landed in the stadium, it means people are under the foot of heaven - perhaps George Bush himself ;) (GPS wise)

Dirty foot or not, China is arriving. The dirt spreads globally.

In today's context, it doesn't mean the feet of the West are clean. No disrespect. Not even our local feet of heaven. When man tries to be godlike, trouble surfaces.

Anonymous said...

So how many babies have died? Yes. The culprits ought to be punished.

What abt the the US unleash of weapons of financial mass destruction across the whole world? Do you know how many people round the world have committed suicide? How many have their savings & nest eggs vaporised? How many have become joblesss? These heartless crony capitalists. The slaughter coming from the bastion of the free market democracy.

No one dares writes abt it. Guess it's the colonial mentality.

- Xiaoping

The said...

/// I think one from the Fourth Estate can only be a true member if he or she is not afraid to be deemed deemed as a Fifth Columist.
October 1, 2008 9:50 PM ///

And may I add that he or she must have the Sixth Sense, otherwise he or she will not last long and be in Seventh Heaven real soon.

Anonymous said...

Susan writes -

For info of readers.

Melamine is generally quite harmless to adults. It can be quite easily passed out.

From the 1.3 billion population of China olny several baby deaths are reported. These babies must have gone on nothing else but the tainted milk alone over a very long period of time to develop kidney stones.

I agree that the cost-cutting culprits if found shd be brought to book. Severely.

In comparative economics, where cost is the major factor in the price war such tactics will be used again and again.

Well, go ahead and spit but don't get caught by the law. Businessmen are entrepreneurs and don't forget they are by nature risk-takers.

Illegal bookies have been caught and punished time and again but you still find them. Some people still stay away from the "legal" booths for you-know-best. So? Brace for the best as worldwide competition hots up and more spiced foodstuffs go on the shelves. What? Japanese rice also contaminated. Yes!

Anonymous said...

Wang, the thing about China, is, we never know who is telling the truth. In fact, we don;t know what the truth is, though this can very much be said even of the USA.

But press freedom should be more opened up here. We take people to court on spoken words anyway, why be afraid of (reposnibility for) written words?

Anonymous said...


I am not as confident as you are of China's impending global dominance. China will have a Herculean task to transforming their mainly low income population to a mainly middle income population. They are currently an centralised export driven economy, with low regulatory accountability and oversights. What we are witnessing today is the same growth the Asian Tigers experienced circa 1980s.

For global dominance, China would need to be a creator of business trends and technology, not merely a facsimile. We should not assume that they can make this transition smoothly, or within our generation as China is extremely diverse, and the provincial governments extremely entrenched.

Japan is one good example. It took them a long time, even with the help of the Americans (trade deficit, technology transfer), a protected currency, and an almost homogeneous society. Hence I would say, China has a lot of unrealised potential.

Anonymous said...

From time to time, Pyongyang and China bashings occur in the Local Cyberspace Discussions.

The tainted food products from China are manufactured in China by mainly foreign investors. Quite a seizeable of these companies are not Chinese(China) owned.

WHY ARE THE FOREIGN(Non-Chinese) OWNERS not ensuring the safety of their products? Why are Singaporeans directing the blames at the factories(in China) and China? We know the factories are producing the products according to the requirements(specifications) of the Owners of those brands.

We can blame all things bad, but we have to blame the right party(ies) and for the right reason(s).

The North Koreans, I believe, do not complain or talk much of our leadership which we rant so much in the Net. And yes, how many Sicgaporeans know Pyongyang Regime well?


Anonymous said...

It is very sad that a country that prides itself on 5,000 years of culture should participate in this heinous cover up. The basis of that 5,000 years of culture is the propriety of relationship in society, the most fundamental of which is that of the elder and of the child. Take that away, Confucian ethics argues and society collapses. So it is very disturbing that the Chinese authorities have been perceptibly lax and rather slow to react where the milk scandal is concerned. Let us give credit where credit is due: if such a thing happen in Singapore the government's response would have been both swift and decisive. So to be fair: the present government of Singapore is something we should recognize as being effective and very proactive.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang

Here is a report from CNA. Would you say this is also a preventable tragedy?

"Tainted deli meats death toll in Canada hits 20
Posted: 02 October 2008 0809 hrs

OTTAWA: An outbreak of listeriosis linked to contaminated deli meats in Canada has claimed its 20th life, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Wednesday.

The government agency said there were 52 cases of listeriosis nationally, an infection causing by the bacteria listeria monocytogenes that causes high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea.

The agency said it was also investigating another nine suspected cases of listeriosis for a possible link to a Toronto area facility at the centre of the outbreak.

On August 19, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a recall of Maple Leaf sliced corned beef, roast beef, pepperoni, salami, sausages, smoked ham, and turkey thought to be contaminated with the bacteria.

The number of food products recalled has risen to 220, including packaged sandwiches made with the tainted meat, with a total estimated value of US$20 million.

Food authorities say products contaminated with listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk. Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness, but infections can lead to premature delivery or stillbirth.

- AFP/yb"

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Further tragedy has already been prevented, in the Canadian case. The news is made public, people are aware of the risks. No newspaper has been restrained from writing about the food matter, for the sake of promoting Canada's good image in relation to some international sports event.

Anonymous said...

It's getting kinda old.

Why does everything leads to the Olympics? Again? Sensationalizing the news, maybe?

If said reporter is aware of the issue and has been mulled by the authorities, the only deduction you should draw affirmatively is that the authorities are to be blamed for procrastinating because they -knew- and did -nothing of use-.

Anonymous said...

The phrase 'putting up a good image' has all the connotations of the words 'lie', 'bluff', 'false front', 'giving false impressions'. And this is something that means a lot to most Chinese, since we like 'face' so much.

We like face so much that we prefer to save face than to save the kidneys of little babies. I hope China has gotten the glory it wants. China's Olympic glory was bought by the kidneys of many Chinese toddlers.

This milk scandal was already in full-force since middle of this year, but face is more important than saving kidneys.

Anonymous said...

Dreyer's ice-cream "quietly" taken off shelves of NTUC Fairprice.

Why no news about why the product was taken away?

Anonymous said...

Wang, you see, Canadian producers are not linked to the Canadian Gov, the way we will link Chinese producers to the China Gov. The main difference in a market economy and a (ex)centralist economy.

Hence, to expose the scandal, is to slap the China's Gov's face, but not for the Canadian Gov, who is seen as policing the market.

The difference will mean the different approach undertaken.

Anonymous said...


SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean authorities have found trace amounts of melamine in milk products imported from New Zealand that were used in baby formula and banned their import, its food safety agency said Thursday.

So, our Susan from October 2, 2008 11:20 AM is right.

Cost cutting to maximise profit in the private is endemic. Question is when and how the prohibited stuff is uncovered.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

please explain how your comment is relevant to my post about state-controlled media.

Anonymous said...

Considering that NZ has now "discovered" such contamination in their own dairy products in a particular large dairy cooperative at this point in time. Would it possibly be a coincidence such contamination arises from "modern" agricultural practices eg cheap plastic tubing/containers which are could caused such or possibly "forbid" profit motives.
To be blunt as long as society pursues MORAL RELATIVISM, would expecr such to occur incidents to occur flare up more often.


Anonymous said...

Judging from the no. of anonymous posts, we can tell that Singaporeans know our media is controlled, but are too scared to talk about it.

Anonymous said...

Just to share.

The other day I was at the neighbourhood centre having my breakfast. My seating angle enabled to see what the kueh teow man was doing from behind his warong. In fact, a fishball accidentally fell off and landed onto the floor within his cubicle. He bent, innocently picked it up and dropped it back into the boiling cistern.

So? It all boils down to cost. Dollars & cents. And someone else; not himself eating the "tainted" fishball.

Home-cooked food is the best. Your mum or wife won't want you to be "poisoned", right?

The said...

/// Home-cooked food is the best. Your mum or wife won't want you to be "poisoned", right?
October 3, 2008 12:14 PM ///

I think you are missing the plot altogether.

Nowadays, with so much food processing even before you light your stove, your basic ingredients would already be "poisoned". What makes you think the tofu or fishball you bought from the supermarket are clean and not contaminated? Have you seen how they prepared those fishballs?

Aren't the mothers in China preparing milk for their children doing "home cooking"? Do you seriously think they want to poison their children?

Anonymous said...

The corporate will pursue profit... and some will be doing it at all cost (Enron, Lehman, China). It is about the ethics of the person, whether he / she allow it to perpetuate.

IMHO, as in the China case, the cover-up by the govt is to "protect" the image of the country before the Olympics and therefore not appropriate.

Canada (as in Singapore), the policing role of the govt provide the checks on the corporate.


Anonymous said...

Only fly-by-night businesses and companies would seek to make profit by intentionally doing acts to hurt their customers.

If you have a longer-term view, why would you hurt your customer? He wouldn't want to buy from you again if you did that. Therefore you wouldn't want to do that.

Large, well-run companies would in fact create and apply all kinds of checks to make sure that their products are safe & reliable. Of course, there can still be mishaps .... but seriously, they have a strong incentive to protect their own reputation.

Anonymous said...

Susan is right and yet she's wrong.

Here's what she said: "These babies must have gone on nothing else but the tainted milk alone over a very long period of time to develop kidney stones."

Come now, is there anyone else who does not know that babies consume no other food except for infant milk? Those babies have done nothing else that any other babies did, except that the other babies were comparatively more fortunate in consuming milk that had lower levels of melamine, either from different brands of milk or in different batches of the brands at risk.

Susan also said: "Melamine is generally quite harmless to adults. It can be quite easily passed out."

This seemingly innocuous statement is what led me to make this post. If the babies consumption of tainted babies milk is translated to the adult world, recalling my point that babies consume nothing except babies milk, then in the adult equivalent, we have to imagine that everything we eat and drink would be contaminated with the same level of melamine. In such a scenario, I cannot but disagree with Susan's statement that Melamine is harmless and can easily be passed out when consumed in those doses over 3 or 4 years.

And the last thing that Susan said: "What? Japanese rice also contaminated. Yes!"

Yet again, Susan is 100% right but 100% off the point. Mr Wang's point is the cover-up by authorities. Not about misdeeds by individual companies.

Mr Wang's point on the dangers of cover-up by authorities rings particularly valid in a country where 90% of the companies are run by government or govt-linked companies.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Mr Wang but I have to respond to Susan.

Dear Susan Are you a medically certified doctor?
If not Might I suggest you read up on Melamine and it's effect on the human body.(hint it is used to make pesticide to kill pest too.)

No one want to condemn China for anything but the undeniable Fact still stand that at least 50000 case of melamine poisoning which result in 4 "Official but how can we know for sure?" death had occurred.(media blackout or rather Shifting focus to the momentous space program)

I don't know about others But I will most definitely Stay AWAY from "made in China" Products until they can start having better Quality control and Whistle blowing are heard.No thanks to their media too.

Cheap is good (for some) but our Life is too important to us to be sacrificed for Cheap food products laced with potential carcinogenic Chemical to increase it's superficial value.So that someone can make a quick buck.

PS Part of Those Japanese rice are also from China duh.Get your facts Straight.

Actually Poison milk(along with democracy, Space conversation leak, age of female olympic Gymnast ,Taiwan and Falun gong) had also made their list of word to monitor too if you used Skype (esp tom skype co own by EBay). How that for "Big brother is watching YOU".

Space conversation and Gymnast are on a need to know basis.

End note: Susan will you consume melamine knowingly in small amount?
Since it is so harmless in adult?

Anonymous said...

Fra said:
((For example, Mas Selamat's escape was very well publicised (albeit with a slight delay), in spite of the embarrassment it would bring to the government. ))

Of course they reported it. This is a case that's absolutely impossible to cover up. Too many people were involved in it. If Mas Selamat had been re-captured within an hour, it would not have made it to the media at all.

Anonymous said...

Whether it be tainted milk or high risk structured mini-bonds, it is still a government's duty to ensure a proper system of checks to protect its citizens and residents.

A free press is part of this system of checks.

Our MSM would never report on any flaws made by our government. At most, they are reported as an honest mistake or a very long term buy of some lousy bank assets that nobody wants.

I seriously questioned if Singapore would do the same if similar tragedy struck during the
F1 period. Lucky GLCs don't manufacture any food products.

Like someone mentioned to me, we have so many Chinese PRs managing businesses here, it won't be long before some of them also practice their style of profit maximisation in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that the Singapore Government would cover up an incident involving contaminated milk products, and that it would prefer having dead babies rather than bad publicity during a sporting event?

Come on...!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Well, whatever you think I'm suggesting, that is merely a reflection of your own thinking. And of your own intelligence / stupidity.