When the emperor is far away . . .

Bob Moon Dec 6, 2007


Scott Jagow: Another thing on the president’s agenda: the safety of Chinese toys and food and other exports. That’ll be a big topic at U.S.-China talks in Washington next week. But for China, talking and doing could be far apart. More from Bob Moon.

Bob Moon: There’s an old Chinese proverb that helps explain the trouble Beijing faces in fixing China’s product safety problems:

WILLIAM GAMBLE: “The mountains are high, and the emperor is far away.”

In other words, William Gamble of Emerging Market Strategies doubts Beijing’s political reach in the far-flung provinces. He applauds the Bush Administration for leaning on China to mend its ways.

But Gamble is skeptical the communist regime can change deeply entrenched corruption.

GAMBLE: It’s just too profitable to stop it, because that would cause all sorts of other problems. And a lot of these revenues go to state-owned companies in the provinces, and those support the local state governments, including members of the Communist Party.

Barring a new government, he contends that eventually, the marketplace will need to decide:

GAMBLE: This is a problem that is not going to change in China. I think American companies ought to understand that and make other provisions for finding a place that’s safe to make toys.

Along with a lot of other goods that, Gamble says, Chinese provincial leaders aren’t legally accountable for.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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