Mail Call: Quality vs. Cost?

Readers of our July 16 report on Chinese goods had mixed reactions. One said, "Your story's an eye-opener." Another wrote, "China makes high-quality products, too. You get what you pay for."

A Debt Honored in Indonesia
Your July 23 article "Ties That Bind" may be read to incorrectly suggest that Sjamsul Nursalim has not fully honored a debt to the Indonesian government agency IBRA. Nursalim has fully repaid IBRA. He entered into a settlement agreement with IBRA, which was represented by financial and legal consultants from five internationally renowned firms. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund gave the Indonesian authorities their blessings for the settlement agreements at the time. After a transfer of assets pursuant to that agreement, IBRA confirmed in writing that Nursalim had fully honored all his obligations. He was also given a release and discharge letter signed by the minister of Finance. IBRA later sold those assets. Nursalim had no involvement in the timing of those sales or the amounts that IBRA accepted for those assets. The economic turmoil that swept Indonesia adversely affected the value of the assets, one of which, the world's largest integrated shrimp farm, had to be sold at a significant discount because of the social unrest and lawlessness that overran it. Nursalim's family began investing in Singapore in the 1930s, building up diverse business operations, including listed holdings, over the years. It was only later, in the 1960s, that he invested actively in Indonesia, in the process pledging Singaporean assets for that purpose. In view of this, and the fact that he has fully honored his obligations, the statement that his operations have "decamped" to Singapore is, in our view, misleading.
Jeannette Amanda
Vice President, Corporate Communications
Gajah Tunggal Group
Jakarta, Indonesia

The Quality of Chinese Goods
In the July 16 cover story of your Asian edition, "Made in China," you painted an ugly picture of Chinese products. I think it's important to point out that China also makes high-quality products that have gained recognition both at home and abroad. There is no doubt that the Chinese are capable of manufacturing good-quality products if the buyer is willing to pay for them. Besides, buyers must exercise due diligence before dealing with any supplier—it is necessary to inspect and test goods prior to shipment. One should not generalize by condemning China as a bad manufacturer just because of a few factories whose products were found to be substandard. I believe that in China, you get what you pay for.
Suresh H. Punjabi
Hong Kong

Your story "Made In China" emphasized only the drawbacks of the Chinese food industry. I grant that side of it may be true. But which countries import Chinese foodstuffs on a large scale? We in Pakistan and India, at least, would not touch Chinese food exports with a barge pole. You also made passing remarks about Chinese-made tires and automobiles. But then, there are thousands of other categories of goods made in China that are perfectly acceptable—they are of good quality and are low-priced. I say, thank God for Chinese goods that force local industries to control their costs of production. The flood of Chinese goods has also offered consumers an alternative to paying through the nose for Western goods. In the United States and Japan, I saw Chinese-made garments, electrical goods, household articles, etc., that were certainly not shoddy. Large-scale consumer acceptance is proof of this.
S. R. Poonegar
Karachi, Pakistan

Your story ought to be an eyeopener for consumers of Chinese goods—ranging from toys and electronics to toothpaste and edibles—the world over. What is most disturbing is the issue of fake and counterfeit drugs that are exported to poor Third World countries. Here in India, our large electronic-goods market has been flooded by cheap Chinese gadgets. The vendor showing you any such piece will invariably call out, "Chinese-made, no guarantee!" Obviously, these items are not viewed as quality goods, but people buy them because they are cheaper. In comparison, goods bearing a label identifying them as made in Japan (or Taiwan, or even Singapore) carry a premium over similar products from China. Clearly, the breaking of such stories in the international media is damaging, and the Chinese will have to take remedial measures since they know the importance of global business for their economy. Let's not doubt their resilience and determination to spring back with better, newly improved products. Besides, the Chinese know the tricks of the trade. They deliver quality to the quality-conscious and dump the rest on those who are less discerning.
R. K. Sudan
Jammu, India

Your July 16 feature "Unsafe At Any Speed" is an eye-opening report on what "made in China" is all about. It exposes the dangers in Chinese exports. Trade between Japan and China has been steadily growing, and Chinese goods and produce have saturated the Japanese market. In fact, China is expected to surpass the United States in 2007 as Japan's top trading partner. So the revelation of the dangers in its exports is really shocking. Japanese people traditionally eat grilled eel, and the demand for it has been met largely by Chinese exports. However, this year eels from China are banned because of the recently revealed use of prohibited anti-germ medicine in farming eels. From now on, we'll keep an eye on the safety of Chinese food exports. Getting rich quickly may be a guiding motive in China. But without safety regulations, it creates a loss of confidence in China as a whole.
Takahito (Ted) Miyazawa
Odawara, Japan

Your article about unsafe products from China was harsh. As the fastest-growing economy in the world today, China attracts admiration as well as envy. American and European companies worry about Chinese products because the latter kick theirs out of the market in terms of both volume and price. Of course, there are products made cheaper by compromising on quality—counterfeiters, thieves and scammers exist in all nations. But not all Chinese products are "deadly." Last year I went to China to source process machines for our pharmaceutical company. We visited seven provinces and about 20 companies in two weeks. We saw companies making superior-quality machines as well as cheaper varieties. It's the same for all other products—the costliest perfume, jewelry, cake or beverages, or the cheapest ones. Still, cheap does not always mean deadly. Besides, quality-control problems exist even in developed countries. Our China visit was successful: we could offer quality pharma machines to the Indian market at 50 percent of the European cost. Since documentation requirements are stringent in the pharma industry, our clients would not have accepted poor-quality machines. Moreover, many major American and European companies have extensive Chinese operations—the bulk of their products are outsourced. Big-name companies manufacture goods in China, then ship them to places like Singapore for rebranding to avoid the MADE IN CHINA tag. If Chinese goods are so bad, why are countries—including America—pouring their money into that country which, in your words, is "wreaking havoc at home and abroad"?
Sasidharan S. Menon
Mumbai, India

I was impressed by the parallels you drew between Upton Sinclair's description of Chicago's beef industry in the early 1900s and the safety concerns surrounding Chinese exports today ("Unsafe at Any Speed"). But your piece missed Sinclair's point. For him, the production of unsanitary meat products was merely a symptom—along with child labor and pollution—of a much bigger problem: capitalism. The United States and the EU may place restrictions on Chinese goods, but this would not cure the bigger problem because producers will sell these goods elsewhere. In Sinclair's "The Jungle," poor immigrants consume the tainted goods that they produce, which are unfit for export from Chicago, because they can afford nothing else. Calling these safety concerns China's "teething problems" is also problematic. If it is not China producing unsafe goods in poor conditions, it will be someone else: Bolivia, Bangladesh or U.S. companies exploiting cheap immigrant labor. Thus, Sinclair wrote, "Who there was poorer and more miserable than the Slovaks, Grandmother Majauszkiene did not know, but the packers would find them, never fear." A hundred years later, history seems to be repeating itself. For Sinclair, this is a natural outcome of an economic system that marks profit as the bottom line.
Nathanael Krancus
La Paz, Bolivia

China is a developing country, yet it won the right to host the 2008 Olympics—strictly on merit. And there are many Chinese companies, with foreign joint ventures, that manufacture international-quality products which you did not mention in your article. It is unfair to generalize as you do and not mention quality goods that pass the most stringent international quality standards.
Elvidio Miranda
Goa, India

Consequences of the Iraq War
The three consequences your writers listed in "The Perils of Pulling Out" (April 30) as potential results of a pullout of U.S. troops—refugees, sectarian massacres and proxy wars—are the consequences of an uninvited "pull-in" of U.S. troops into Iraq in 2003. These tragic catastrophes, which had already happened, are happening now in the presence of the U.S. military surge and probably will continue to happen even if the troops are not pulled out.
Roland l. K. Chan
Hong Kong

I am disappointed with NEWSWEEK for saying that "when the British [left] India in 1947, the country was partitioned between Muslims and Hindus." India was not partitioned in 1947 to be a Hindu state: India is a secular democracy, as your editor Fareed Zakaria certainly knows. He was born and raised in India, and before him, his Muslim father cast aside the lure of Pakistan to stay put in secular India, whose Constitution guaranteed equal rights to all religious denominations.
Ajit Sahi
New Delhi, India

Whose Sacred Spots?
Kudos to your writers for their April 30 piece "Pilgrim's Progress," chronicling religion's grip on the human psyche the world over. Unfortunately, however, it also exposes their major blind spot in omitting mention of the places of pilgrimage of the Bahai faith, the world's youngest independent religion, with its beautiful shrines on the slopes of Mount Carmel in Haifa. With its worldwide following of less than 10 million, the Bahai faith has followers in more than 200 countries. The nine-sided Bahai temples in various capitals of the world are universally acknowledged as architectural masterpieces of ecumenical symbolism. Finally, you should have included the profoundly touching photo, also titled "Pilgrim's Progress," portraying Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims prostrating themselves every step of the way on their two-year journey to Lhasa. It would have strengthened your description of humanity's eternal quest.
Jamshed K. Fozdar

I am annoyed that your article ignored Hindu pilgrim destinations in India. Hindus, who make up almost a sixth of the human race, consider the 3,000-year-old city of Varanasi (or Benares) to be the holiest, but it did not even make it into your map ("Places for Pilgrims"), and the nearly 1 billion followers of Hinduism merited no more than two sentences. I'd also like to point out some blatant inaccuracies in your map: Angkor Wat, a well-known Hindu temple in Cambodia, is depicted as a "Buddhist" site; Rajghat in Delhi, where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated and where a memorial stands today, is also passed off as a Buddhist pilgrimage center. Last, you forgot Ayers Rock in Australia, a well-known holy site for Aborigines.
Jayasree Mohan Murti
Cologne, Germany

There were mistakes in the map accompanying "Pilgrim's Progress" that marked international pilgrim sites. Some places are not known for pilgrimage. Patna, the capital of Bihar, is a crowded town with no pilgrimage sites. Nalanda, known for its ancient Buddhist university, is also not a pilgrimage site. Rajghat is in Delhi, on the bank of the Yamuna River, where the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi are buried. None of these is a place of pilgrimage. Kumbh Mela is not a place but a Hindu holy ritual, performed every 12 years on the banks of the river Ganges near the city of Allahabad.
Krishna Sedhain
Katmandu, Nepal

Your article "Pilgrim's Progress" and "Places for Pilgrims," its accompanying map, curiously ignored East Asia, skewing an otherwise fine article on an increasingly important subject into illegitimacy. Your writers seemed to include only those sites east of India mentioned by the Dalai Lama in his profound essay that was included in the series. Some places you did include were inappropriate, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which was indeed an ancient temple site—Hindu, not Buddhist—but is now only a tourist spot; few people go there on "pilgrimage." As for China, outside of Tibet, only Wu Tai Shan and Qufu (bizarrely misspelled Gufu in your online article) were mentioned. The latter is the hometown of Confucius in Shandong province, but is not really a place of any "pilgrimage," whereas the nearby holy mountain Wu Tai-Shan might attract the most religious pilgrims of any Chinese site. All other important Buddhist and Taoist mountains, great pilgrimage destinations, were ignored. No sites in Korea or Japan were listed. South Korea also has many ancient, important and heavily visited sites of pilgrimage, mostly Buddhist but also Shamanic-Nationalist and Confucian. Examples are temples and shrines on Mount Jiri, Mount Taebaek, Mount Gyeryong, Mount Nak and Mount Gaya. These oversights in your article slant the image of the rising global pilgrimage tourism too much toward Christianity and Islam, and insufficiently cover the busy and important East Asian religious destinations. I believe that as a venerable global magazine, NEWSWEEK should offer more balanced coverage.
David A. Mason
Professor of Tourism
Kyunghee University
Seoul, South Korea

Putin's Nashi, Mao's Red Guards
You likened the young Russian Nashi to German Nazi youth, but they reminded me more of the swarming teenage Red Guards of the Chinese Cultural Revolution during the days when Chairman Mao was ailing ("Young Russia Rises," May 28). The only difference is that the weapon of the Red Guards was Mao's Red Book, whereas that of the Nashi is real firearms. Mao whipped up the Red Guards to cleanse his party and rid it of both his real and imaginary foes when he knew he did not have many more years to be in charge. Vladimir Putin would want to follow suit in using the Nashi to execute his wishes before the presidential election next year while consolidating his autocratic rule. When Putin ascended to the presidency, the world welcomed him as the new bearer of democracy. Few would have expected him to make such an about-face in striving relentlessly to be yet another powerful world policeman, competing with (if not replacing) the role of the only global law enforcer—the United States.
Munti Dann
Penang, Malaysia
Abe, an American Ally

Your April 30 report "The Burden Of Japan" accurately described the dangerous and dubious characteristics of Shinzo Abe and his hawkish group. But you failed to mention one important factor. The United States has been pressing Japan to loosen the strict restrictions on the Japanese military in order to win Japan's cooperation in the U.S. strategy. The United States supports Abe only because he is (or pretends to be) a faithful ally; it turns a blind eye to his lack of respect for human rights in Japan. This is similar to the U.S. support for dictatorships in the Middle East because they are pro-American. Any wonder, then, that ordinary people are frustrated with the United States?
Kyoichi Kunimi
Fujisawa City, Japan

The Media and the Popes
In the April 23 article "The Missing Pope," your writer seems to be ignorant of the fact that his criticisms about Benedict XVI are an almost verbatim repeat of what John Paul II had to endure. Among the many criticisms of John Paul, let me just mention two contained in articles printed in the South China Morning Post of March 11, 1995, by Brian Masters: "One of the reasons John Paul is prone to being excessively authoritarian is that he feels the need, in a fragmented world, to re-establish the universality of the Church." In the same newspaper on April 16, 1995, Andrew Gumbel wrote: "He is more determined than ever not to let the reforming spirit of Vatican II challenge the essentially authoritarian structure of the Church." And with all the acclaim John Paul received after he passed away, one sentence kept standing out: "We liked the singer, but we did not like the song." Therefore David Gibson's statement about Benedict XVI—"He's an old-fashioned guy who wants to go back to what [the church] was before"—is as irrelevant in Benedict's case as it was in John Paul's. And the article's closing statement ("Instead of a shepherd who would help the 1.1 billion Catholics to tackle present and future problems, they got a reclusive intellectual more interested in resurrecting old rituals and disputes") shows that you have not grasped the reason why John Paul kept Cardinal Ratzinger as his closest curial adviser for 24 years. That was also why Ratzinger was chosen pope during the last conclave after only two days. Although their styles may be different, both John Paul and Benedict are made of the same cloth, and both have already contributed enormously to get the church back on track by trying to counter the confusion that was created after Vatican II, not because of excessive zeal for the council's decisions but through their misapplication by third-rate "theologians." A possible decision by the Vatican to permit (not force) congregations to celebrate mass in Latin does not represent a big step backward, as you want us to believe. It is a sign that the church still treasures "sacred tradition," echoing our Lord's words "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost" (John 6:12).
Francis Vrijmoed
Hong Kong

Pope Benedict XVI has been seen as an old-fashioned academic intellectual. The news media highlight some so-called negative points instead of doing a deeper study of his teachings. For example, when he wrote the recently published document "Sacramentum Charitatis," in which he describes how the love of the Holy Eucharist can influence all aspects of human life, the media reduced all his ideas to a very conservative message against divorce, and to a mere defense of Latin in the liturgy. Any serious debate has to recognize the importance of the church in the construction and defense of one of the greatest values of modern culture—the centrality of man and respect for his dignity. Some clerics have tarnished the church's respectability, but many more follow the Gospel every day. The pope's main concern is to talk about deep, solid values and the following of the Gospel. In his speeches during his visit to South America, he showed himself to be a wise, caring and thoughtful pastor. In order to have a clear idea of his importance as a spiritual leader, we must consider how well received his words were. He certainly got a very warm reception here.
Yenne Antonini
Belo Horizonte, Brazil