Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Olympics and Poison

The Olympics are upon us, something that can't have escaped anyone alive on this planet, deep sea slugs and cave lichen included.

What probably has escaped you is that dumplings with pesticides have been found in China, as reported by Globaltalk 21. Last winter several people got sick from eating imported frozen dumplings from China, and it turned out the dumplings had been deliberately laced with a banned pesticide; an overview is available here. The investigation quickly turned acrimonious with Japanese and Chinese officials claiming the poisoning could not have occurred in their own country.

So, pesticide-laced dumplings have been found in China, raising the probability that the poison indeed did originate in China rather than being added after the dumplings were imported into Japan. Jun Okumura above sees an attempt to discredit or embarrass China by having this information leaked right before the Olympics. To be sure, there's lots of mutual animosity between the countries; I agree with him that there's plenty of people here that would love to discredit China in any way they can.

I disagree with him that this is the intent of releasing this news. A week ago, or two weeks would have been understandable and effective. But releasing such news - or any news - just hours before the start of the Olympics is pretty much the worst thing you can do; if anything this is the perfect time to bury news, not highlight it. During the next two weeks, much of the world is going to ignore the recession; the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the US presidential campaign; and the cost of oil. Some trivial thing like a few poisoned dumplings are not even going to register with much of the people. If it really is an attempt to embarrass China, it is a singularly incompetent one:

- Hey, there's poison in these dumplings here in China!

- Shhh, Ernesto Ramirez is about to jump 4.55!

- Um, ok, good for him, but we found actual poison in these dumplings and...

- Elena Vladivostoka just got 9.24 in the Womens Alternative Combination!! Do you understand what this MEANS?!

- Well, no, not really but look, about these dump-

- Neither do I!! ISN'T THIS EXCITING?!?!?!

- Hello? Dumplings? Poison?



  1. Ah, so here it is.

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Just take a look at the newspaper headlines. It appears that the source has hit the jackpot by revealing the information three days (not hours) before the opening ceremonies, when foreign media outlets are crawling all over China for something to report on before the flood of news on the actual events start flowing in. Note, also, that terrorist attacks are getting more than their usual level of attention.

    Another possible motive that I did not think about in the beginning may be to embarrass the Fukuda administration for sitting on the information. DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa has gone on the attack.

    Whatever the motive of the source may have been, it has been effective in highlighting the dumplings case.

  2. Depends on the headlines you look at. Dagens Nyheter in Sweden had quite a lot of coverage on the dumplings case last winter; today there hasn't been a trace about this, owing in no small part to the major breaking news that the Women's soccer team lost their first group match to China 2-1; and that The Beijing Olympics are the most expensive in hitstory.

    I didn't expect that the news would be absent; the newpapers will of course give this coverage no matter when it is presented. I do think the public's attention span for this news is cut short by the coming avalanche of Olympic events. Had this been leaked two weeks ago, it would have generated weeks of debates and arguments, all picked up by an interested public.

    But now it will most likely not generate any continuous coverage, but be edged out of the TV screens by in-depth analysis of the Japanese Olympic performance, the doping scandal of the day, and, yes, the distinct possibility of a terrorist attack generating a flash flood of coverage and possible sympathetic feelings towards China, where even bringing up tainted gyouza would seem petty and mean.

    Time will tell, I guess.


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