Culture and behavior are here to stay

The latest melamine-tainted baby formula scandal on the mainland highlights one thing – the culture and behavior of a country won’t change overnight. 

The scandal is reminiscent of how the authorities in China handled the SAR, a daunting public health challenge in 2003, when the officials initially tried to cover up the scale of the SAR break-out.

China’s Minister of Health Chan Zhu yesterday admitted that the “authorities” were aware of the problems with baby formula in mid-July, and several investigations had been carried out since to establish the cause, only to no avail. Why not, then, alerted the public about the problem which is so consequential when it was first discovered? Who are all these “authorities” aware of the problem?  The minister didn’t answer.

Minister Chan, after 3 deaths and more than 6000 children affected by the tainted formula, was still trying to offer excuse for the slow action – or the cover-up – of the “authorities”. His statements seemed to imply that “well, we didn’t hide the truth – we were  just investigating.”

On another front, the formula manufacturer concerned Sanlu received complaints as early as March this year, and later its tests confirmed contamination. The New Zealand owner of a 43% stake of Sanlu, Fonterra Co-operative Group, said it urged the company to recall the product as early as six weeks ago. After no action taken, it had to bypass the company and the local authorities to alert the Central government.

The company Sanlu and the authorities, local and central, all share one common skill -buck passing and fact hiding.

I am thinking about the glory and grandeur of the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics just weeks away, with themes reflecting the traditional Chinese culture. What is really the Chinese culture NOW? Would people want to seriously think about it?

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