Death for kickbacks in China

Scott Tong May 29, 2007

TEXT OF INTERVIEWLISA NAPOLI: Today China sentenced its former chief of drug regulation to death. Scott Tong in Shanghai says this doesn’t have anything to do with the recent product scandals out of China — at least not directly.

SCOTT TONG: Well his name is Zheng Xiaoyu and for years he headed China’s version of the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. During his tenure there have been a number of high-profile stories about substandard drugs, drug problems. Baby milk formula that was approved by his agency was blamed for the death of more than a dozen babies in China. Now what he was accused of and found guilty of today by a court in Beijing is bribery, taking more than $800,000 US from drug companies to get their drugs approved in China. The other is there’s a list of drugs that are subject to price controls and bribes were paid so that the drugs companies could get their drugs off that list.

NAPOLI: So none of what we’ve been seeing lately happened on his watch but do you think what happened today is somehow a way to send a message to the world that China’s kind of policing itself more strictly than it had been before so that we’re not all afraid here in the West?

TONG: Well the folks I talked to said first and foremost, yes it is a message, first meant for domestic consumption. There’s an idiom that a China watcher just mentioned to me: You kill the chicken so that the monkey starts behaving. People who have been convicted of bribery involving a lot more money have not received the death penalty in China, so there’s something else going on here. In other words, make an example of someone so that the regulators start saying no to the companies that want to offer them bribes. But then they also say the timing certainly works for China to do some damage control regarding these exports of Chinese food and Chinese toothpaste that you talk about. And of course China is trying to play defense against increasing calls to ban Chinese imports into certain countries.

NAPOLI: That was Scott Tong in Shanghai.

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