> Why is Xi Jinping Himself calling for Improved Safety Controls? - The Food Safety Company Why is Xi Jinping Himself calling for Improved Safety Controls? - The Food Safety Company
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    Wednesday, 4 January 2017

    Why is Xi Jinping Himself calling for Improved Safety Controls?

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    As we reported last month, China has suddenly developed an appetite for food safety regulations; and it’s probably because of Donald Trump, at least in part. Now, however, for the first time, such issues are taking centre-stage at the heart of Chinese government, with President Xi Jinping himself last week calling for ‘the most rigorous standards, the most stringent regulation, the most severe punishment and the most serious accountability for improving food safety control,’ according to a report by China.org.

    It’s a strange demand at first glance. But when it’s contextualised, it becomes somewhat clearer why orders of this particular type might be issued at this particular moment.

    Firstly, let’s recap what we already know: since Donald Trump was elected, Chinese authorities have announced tougher safety regulations on food imports. It’s likely a tit-for-tat protectionism measure in the wake of the anti-China protectionism which formed a large part of the popular wave that carried Donald Trump into the White House last year. These measures (which are probably going to cost the US and EU billions of dollars) are some of the consequences for that; even though The Donald himself probably isn’t actually going to do anything himself.  

    This brand new news, however, is emerging this week because, as China.org reports, we’re currently approaching the Spring Festival and ‘two sessions’ –plenary national meetings of China’s lawmakers and political advisors. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli has therefore joined Xi Jinping in demanding post-haste reforms to regulations which, non-coincidentally, will cover both domestic and (hearken, Donald) international food trade.

    However, a few questions remain regarding how sincere the Chinese state might actually be in these terms. For one, it seems that corporations themselves are the ones actually leading efforts toward the realisation of safe food practices in China. Walmart, for example, has led an initiative to introduce blockchain analysis of its food supplies; whilst farming skyscrapers are being set-up in Hong Kong by independent companies, unsubsidised, to provide the middle-classes with sterile salads.

    Conversely, if we look at the record of Chinese state authorities themselves when it comes to the implementation of food safety regulations domestically, it seems they’re more of a hindrance than a help at times. In November, we saw a suspiciously sudden mass fish tank emptying by supermarkets in Beijing – most likely thanks to tip-offs from local government sources. So, when it comes to protecting companies which aren’t really working toward food safety, either through suspiciously timely leaks by local authorities or, indeed, by blatant efforts to back-up such suppliers once the cat’s bolted the bag, the branches of the Chinese state are the Whomping Willow to the…Ron Weasley’s Car of food standards. Sorry, vague analogies are for Malcolm Tucker. Let’s get back on track.

    Bearing all this in mind, what can we expect from hearing this news? Well, the main intention of these new reforms is most likely to stick a knife in the side of Uncle Sam. Its secondary goal, probably, is to make the state look good domestically – an agent which looks out for its citizens and all that. And, last and least comes actual domestic improvements to food standards. If such a thing does occur, then great. But it probably isn’t at the front of Chinese legislators’ minds.

    So, will change come? Most likely yes. Will it be for the benefit of Chinese citizens? Maybe. Still, with a state which wants to pursue the lofty goal of ‘building an all-round moderately prosperous society,’ that’s probably the best we’re going to get. 

    James Stannard

    James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.
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