China's President Xi Jinping was mocked by his own people after scolding New Zealand Prime Minister John Key over Fonterra's food safety issues during a one-on-one meeting in Bali last Oct. 6.
During the short meeting ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, President Xi reminded Prime Minister Key that food safety is critical to public health. According to a report by the Xinhua news agency, President Xi "urged" New Zealand to implement tougher measures to maintain a high standard of food quality to keep the "sound momentum of economic and trade cooperation" between China and New Zealand.
Social media users in China already used to Chinese food scandals in their native land responded to Mr Xi's scolding of New Zealand with a collective face-palm. According to one user of Sina Weibo, China's microblogging platform equivalent to Twitter, Mr Xi's statements had the "entire country laughing."
The news of President Xi scolding New Zealand's prime minister over food safety quickly spread and greeted with animated and laughing emoticons.
The Chinese president's comments were spurred by the botulism scare caused by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra. When the news of Fonterra's milk scare has spread, China issued an import ban on some of Fonterra's baby milk products.
Fonterra's revelations that some of its whey protein products might contain Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that causes botulism, led to product recalls and the downward trend of the New Zealand dollar. Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings apologised to customers for the botulism scare.
While President Xi Jinping was praised for his aggressive stance in promoting China's interests in the international scene, talking about food safety issues and scolding New Zealand Prime Minister John Key may not generate the same positive response.
The Fonterra milk scare has grabbed international attention but China has experienced far worse from its own dairy companies.
In 2008, almost 300,000 had fallen ill after consuming melamine-tainted milk powder. Melamine is an industrial chemical used to mix in milk powder to make it appear that milk has more protein. Six babies died from drinking the contaminated milk while thousands were admitted in hospitals.
New Zealand's Fonterra previously owned a stake in one of the 22 groups that were implicated in the melamine scandal, Sanlu Group. Fonterra said it urged Sanlu Group to issue a product recall as soon as it heard the news.
Authorities in China has since sentenced 2 people to death involved in the melamine scandal and implemented safety measures to ensure milk contamination will not happen again. However, melamine continued to be discovered in Chinese milk products.
The idea of President Xi berating New Zealand's prime minister over food safety seemed preposterous to many social media users. One user on Sina Weibo said, "How does he have the gall to say this to the New Zealand prime minister?"
The Chinese state-run media have covered the Fonterra botulism scare extensively. Many dairy consumers in China saw it as a cover-up of the country's own dairy and food safety problems.
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