China Appoints Tough Anti-Poison Czar

Meet Wu Yi. The 68-year old Vice Premier, the highest ranking woman in the Communist Party, has been tasked with one mission: toss the Chinese Poison Train back into the rapidly industrializing nation’s toy-chest.

Her gentle, friendly demeanor can be deceiving: The highest-ranking woman in China’s Communist Party hierarchy is Beijing’s enforcer of last resort. In recent years, she has cleaned up the country’s image after the SARS crisis, overseen the response to the AIDS epidemic, led tough trade negotiations with Washington, and shored up the mainland’s shoddy record on intellectual-property rights.

And now she’s head of a new high-level food, drug, and product safety team. Although she has told some people that she plans to retire as vice-chairman after the Communist Party Congress in October, most expect her to stay on as China’s top safety czar. “She’s very, very good at getting things done,” says James M. Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. “If she can’t do it, nobody can.”

China’s actions may be aimed at the European Union, which has threatened to impose a ban on Chinese goods as early as October if China proves unable to abide by the Union’s stringent safety requirements.

Wu may be China’s enforcer of last resort, but her record is mixed. Wu’s last job was to lead the Chinese crackdown on manufacturers of pirated movies and knockoff designer handbags. Intellectual property issues still plague China’s trade agenda.

The appointment is one of the strongest signals yet that China is willing to tackle the problems posed by substandard exports. Wu is already hard at work. To date, she has closed over 2,000 factories and banned the use of lead paint in toys. For everyone’s sake, we hope the lessons she learned battling Chinese counterfeiters have given her the experience needed to finally vanquish the Poison Train once and for all.

Enforcer of Last Resort [BusinessWeek]
(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

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  1. Ncisfan says:

    good luck Mrs. Yi, your gonna need it

  2. Cowboys_fan says:

    Its pretty funny the EU can make them move on this where we could not. I guess they must not have a $300 billion trade debt with them like we do ;-)

  3. hubris says:

    That is the best picture ever. It looks like she’s scolding him and sending him to bed with no supper.

    I’m sure that with most things when it comes to trading with people who really need them, China will pay a lot of lip service, maybe have a few more people kill themselves, possibly improve things a little, but will realize that it is simply impossible to inspect everything that is imported into a country (like the US or EU) and hedge their bets.

  4. zeroraveson says:

    Its not that the US can’t affect change, its just that we aren’t willing to shut down the flow of cheap plastic crap into our big box retailers. If we were willing to do that, the same thing would have happened.

  5. asherchang says:

    @Cowboys_fan: you know what…. i think you’re absolutely right.

  6. Antediluvian says:

    FYI, the Chinese family name (surname or last name) comes before the given name (or first name). So calling Wu Yi Mrs Yi is like calling Jane Smith Mrs Jane.
    (That’s also why the BusinessWeek article refers to her as Wu).
    [en.wikipedia.org]

  7. magus_melchior says:

    @omerhi: And the expression on Bush’s face is indicative of his disdain of criticism. (I’m guessing she was making a joke, actually, though it’s hard to tell if he’s smiling)

    The biggest obstacle she’ll need to tackle is the huge networked structure of China’s industries. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the fact that the production of unsafe and fraudulent products are insanely hard to trace in China, because more than likely there are several layers of subcontractors doing the work.

  8. Antediluvian says:

    While I think this is definitely a good thing for China to do, I am concerned that nothing substantial will happen. This is the best possible time to negotiate with China because they are trying to impress everyone in front of the Summer Olympics next year. Once the (Olympic) games are over, the (political, economic, social) games will be back.

    Here’s a quote from the BW article:
    Despite Wu’s work, though, piracy remains rampant in China. Sellers of knock-off DVDs and fake Louis Vuitton (LVMUY) bags can be seen in just about any big city, often because local governments have little incentive to shut down counterfeiters.

    I wish her luck in fixing a system that is fundamentally flawed.

  9. Antediluvian says:

    @magus_melchior: I thought she was pointing him to the correct door to get off the stage.

  10. Crazytree says:

    I see they appointed the Chinese KD Lang as poison control czar. You can tell she’s a real ballbreaker.

  11. BoraBora says:

    She reminds me of the Landlady in Kung Fu Hustle. Here’s hoping we hear that lion’s roar!

  12. CoffeeAddict says:

    Hopefully she will do as she promises, politians being what they are it’s doubtful. Speaking as a parent I would like to see that the chinese stop using harmful chemicals/paints in their toys as it’s sometimes hard to know what company uses china as their manfacturer.

  13. loueloui says:

    You eat too much from buffet! You go. You go right now!

  14. Antediluvian says:

    @loueloui: I laughed when I read it on the front page, I laughed when I read it on this page, and I’m laughing again as I reply to it. Very nice.

  15. Rusted says:

    @magus_melchior: Not all that hard considering their lack of legal obstructions to official chastisement. Heck, one guy got executed.