China must play by the rules

Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

Several U.S. retailers recently removed certain Chinese-made jewelry from shelves because of evidence that some items contained cadmium, a toxic heavy metal known to cause lung and brain damage.

A few days later, Google, the world's largest Internet search engine, threatened to end operations in China to protest suspected Chinese-launched cyber attacks last year against Google, other U.S. technology companies and human rights supporters.

These aren't isolated incidents. Since 2007, Chinese food, drugs, toothpaste, pet food and drywall have all come under serious international scrutiny for health and safety problems. While China is a huge supplier to U.S. companies and boasts a growing consumer market of its own, the country continues to demonstrate notorious disregard for product safety and business property rights.

Likewise, cyber attacks from China aren't new. But Google's response, a direct challenge to Beijing, is particularly gutsy and one that other major corporations with substantial business interests in China should consider. Google was rightly criticized in 2006 when it relented to the Chinese government's insistence to block certain banned topics from Internet searches there. Now, by threatening to pull out of China if it isn't allowed to operate an unfiltered search engine, Google is boldly adhering to principles, despite the risk of losing access to a huge and rapidly growing market for Internet use.

It is hoped Google's action will begin to drive home the point that China can't make its own rules and that there are consequences for bad behavior. But other companies must follow Google's lead.

Pressure on South Africa from international businesses contributed to the end of apartheid rule. More recently, Nike began to more closely monitor its many overseas subcontractors after the public learned of horrible sweatshop conditions.

U.S. businesses have a valuable role to play in pressuring China to do the right thing and in stepping away if Beijing persists. China's communist leaders pine for international business respect, but first they must earn it.

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