TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - China went on a charm offensive on Wednesday to convince a skeptical world its products are safe, as a new poll in the United States found 78 percent of Americans were worried about the safety of Chinese goods.
The State Council, or cabinet, took a group of reporters on a carefully choreographed visit to sparkling pharmaceutical plants in Beijing’s neighboring city of Tianjin, led by smiling, relaxed officials unusually happy to answer questions.
The reputation of the made-in-China label has taken a battering, following several scandals involving tainted medicine and toothpaste as well as massive recalls of lead-contaminated Mattel toys in the United States.
After initially being slow to publicly acknowledge the problem, the Chinese government has finally kicked its considerable propaganda machine into operation.
“We hope that by inviting the foreign media here, you can use your own hands, mouths and eyes to represent what’s really going on,” said Yan Jiangying, deputy head of the State Food and Drug Administration’s policy and regulations department.
“So you can spread the message that you can believe in made-in-China. That’s what we want,” she told Reuters after a tour of a GlaxoSmithKline factory that exports to Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia.
Reporters had to don special protective suits to enter the production line, and were only allowed to look on through thick windows at workers covered head to toe and using special masks making eye drops, ulcer medication and other drugs.
At another plant, run by traditional Chinese medicine maker Tianjin Zhongxin Pharmaceutical, vice general manager Zhang Ping sought to put his guests at ease by confirming his company does not use tiger bones or rhino horns.
Some environmentalists say demand from China to make medicine out of their body parts makes protecting the two threatened species much harder.
“We could use tiger bones 30 years ago, but it’s banned now. We still have some boxes of them in store, which we can’t use,” he told reporters.
Yet Yan may have her work cut out for her trying to reassure a wary world.
Almost 35 percent of people questioned for a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday said they were “very worried”, and 43 percent “somewhat worried”, about the safety of food and other goods from China.
U.S. officials are in China this week to talk about food and drug safety with their Chinese counterparts.
Yan admitted it was a “challenge” dealing with foreign journalists, and that she faced “a lot of pressure” from press reports about quality problems, but insisted the government welcomed the media’s oversight role.
As for the thorny question of why this year has seen such a surge in safety issues, Yan said it was simply a matter of better detection from the various regulatory bodies that made the problem more visible.
“The reporting system is getting better and better, which is why we keep catching problems,” she added.