Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Chinese Dumplings Story, on the Eve of the Beijing Olympics... Go Figure

The headline for the Yomiuri scoop, page one top of course, reads: Tianyang Chinese Dumpling: Poisoning in China (天洋餃子 中国で中毒).

A brief reminder:

Tianyang Foods is the Chinese food processing company whose gyoza (Japanese word for chaozu, the Chinese dumplings that resemble overweight raviolis) imported to Japan by JT—motto: It may be detrimental to your health…—turned out to be contaminated with methamidophos, a chemical so deadly that it has never been allowed to be used in Japan as a pesticide, agricultural or otherwise. China itself had banned it since 2007 January 1. This January, 10 people in Japan became ill, one of them falling into a temporary coma, after eating the dumplings. The Chinese authorities were highly defensive, insinuating that the contamination had occurred in Japan. After a flurry of widely reported pronouncements, the matter had subsided—not without wreaking havoc on Chinese exports of agricultural and products and processed food to Japan—until now. My thoughts on the matter at the time remain the same, but this new twist in the events is worth noting for its own sake.

The salient facts:

In early July, just before the Hokkaido G8 Summit, the Chinese authorities had informed Japan through diplomatic routes that some of the dumplings that Tianyang had recalled were later consumed in China, causing symptoms of methamidophos poisoning.

The August 6 hardcopy Yomiuri cites August 5 revelations from 関係筋 (related sources) ”.

The rest of the major dailies follow suit on their websites (and late morning? and evening editions), claiming: Asahiit became known on the 6th through administration sources (6日、政府関係者の話で分かった); Mainichiit became known (わかった); Nikkeiit became known on the 6th (6日、分かった); and Sankeimultiple related sources revealed on the 6th (複数の関係筋が6日、明らかにした).

Asahi, the last one to come online at 11:14AM, is the only one to give a reason for the delay in disclosure. “High government officials (政府高官)” told Asahi that was still under investigation in China. Nikkei files the report from Beijing and later in the article cites “diplomatic sources (外交筋)”.

The Beijing Olympics begin in just two days, on August 8.

Now, some comments:

In a conversation the other day with the proprietor of Shisaku, we agreed that the journalese phrase “it became known on date x (X日にわかった)” is more often than not “we wuz scooped” in journalese.

Of all the scoopees, the usually anti-government Asashi is the only one that bothered to wait for the authorities’ explanation before posting the news.

Did I already mention that the Beijing Olympics begin in just two days?*

* Technically, the games start today, when the female soccer teams play the first games in their group league stage. Go, Nadeshiko! Kick Kiwi ass! Soccer begins before the August 8 opening ceremonies because soccer players need more time than other athletes—except marathon and other long-distance runners—to recover between events, or games.


MTC said...

Rather than

Citius, Altius, Fortius

perhaps the three-part motto should be

Neque Aqua, Neque Aer, Neque Panis

Jan Moren said...

It was brought up on the morning NHK news as well.

With that said, could the Olympics timing not just be a coincidence? I mean, what would be gained, and by whom, by bringing this up right now? When looking for conspiracies, a motive is always a good first step.

Jun Okumura said...

Okay, Janne, but you do agree that there’s a dead body with a knife in its back, right? As for people with motives, how about the good people of Osaka?

Someone in the Japanese government must have leaked the information to a Yomiuri reporter. This leak could have happened very recently, in which case the source dictated the timing of the report. A far less likely scenario is that the reporter obtained the information months ago but decided to hold on to it until the news would have a greater impact. Either way, it’s not hard to find individuals who are pissed off at China and specifically the way the two authorities dealt with this matter. It only takes one of them to have belonged to the diplomatic and domestic groups of people who knew about the Chinese notification to have been willing and able to pee into the tent.

Of course there’s always the possibility that some careless bureaucrat happened to leave a document referring to the notification on his/her desk and the Yomiuri reporter read it, or even swiped it. (Yes, they will do that.) And loose lips sink ships. But this is not something that happens every day, whereas deliberate leaks are a dime a dozen.

Maybe not quite neque panis, MTC. Kosuke Kitajima, the odds-on-favorite to win the gold in the men’s 100 and 200 breaststroke, said that they had better food at than any of the Olympics that he’d been to.

Jan Moren said...

Oh, I don't doubt the animosity. What I doubt is the timing. This is after all a singularly bad time for any China basher to try to bring up anything not directly connected to the Olympics. Any news up to and including an invasion by Marsians will simply be ignored at this time after all.

Jun Okumura said...

Janne, I cannot disagree with you more. That's not how the media works. This is the perfect time to dump on the Big Bad Chinese Who Are Out to Conquer the World. The media loves to tear down the high and mighty, it's the drama inherent in hubris. China and the Beijing Olympics are no exception.

Jan Moren said...

I think that this may be an attempt to bury the news rather than highlight it; just posted my thoughts on it.

Jun Okumura said...

If that was the idea, Janne, the people or person who did it were singularly unsuccessful, as a look at today's newspapers will show you.

Durf said...

Irrelevant linguistic needling: The pinyin transliteration of 餃子 is "jiaozi" I believe. Your "chaozu" is close to the pronunciation though.

Jun Okumura said...

You're right, Durf. This is Chiaotzu. (didn't even get that spelling right.) I should have edited this more carefully.