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)