Economy

Why "Made In China" Is Still Synonymous With Low Quality

Chinese companies justify shoddy products because of fierce competition. One businessman explains why this approach is nothing but a dead end.

A notorious label?
A notorious label?
Huang Ming*

-OpEd-

BEIJING — Due to a low industrial entry threshold and a lack of compulsory safety standards, China’s rising solar energy industry is now showing signs of chaos and disorder. There are between 5,000 and 6,000 manufacturers in this industry, but the top 20 combined have a market share of less than 30% of the total. Thousands of these enterprises either collapse or change hands every few years, leaving their clients without service — and solar panels rotting on roofs.

Meanwhile, many solar energy factories continue to flock to China’s rural areas. They compete to the bitter end, and don’t hesitate to sacrifice product and quality standards as a means to reduce costs.

In other words, dark clouds hover over an industry that once seemed destined for a bright future. Only 53.9% of customers are satisfied with their solar water heaters, and “poor quality” has become synonymous with this sector.

Unfortunately, solar energy is but a microcosm of manufacturing in China. At present, virtually all “Made in China” products have a reputation for poor quality. According to one European Union survey, customs officials in EU member countries seized 1.3 billion euros worth of counterfeit products in 2011 — 73% of them were from China.

Food and pharmaceutical industry scandals involving melamine-tainted milk, poisonous medicine capsules, clenbuterol-fed pork, and plasticizing agents totally shatter the reputation of Chinese goods. These days, “Made in China” is an almost notorious label.

Chinese enterprises tend to have a soft spot for scale. They habitually think “big is beautiful.” This kind of blind pursuit of market share results in increasingly fierce competition. Some companies focus only on immediate interests, and a price war is regarded as the primary marketing strategy. It leaves them without the energy for making the proper technical and technological efforts. This is especially true for those small companies at the bottom of the pyramid that don’t possess technical advantages. They can reduce their costs only one way: by cutting corners at the expense of quality.

From a long-term point of view, this is a dead end. As the Irish management guru Charles Handy once said: “Obtaining short-term benefits by sacrificing quality leads to a short-life enterprise. Quality is like truth. Nobody and no enterprise can live too long in lies.”

Indeed, the problem with Chinese enterprises today is quality. Whether it’s solar energy or some other product, they can innovate and guarantee sustainable development only if they stick to the pursuit of quality. Companies are, of course, profit driven. But to be devoid of conscience and earn dirty money is immoral and illegal.

In the northeast city of Baoding in HeBei Province, one man selling fried dough sticks attracted hordes of clients because he promised that they were cooked in fresh oil. This shouldn’t have been an effective sales strategy, but when integrity is rare, a moral conscience becomes a selling point. This illustrates how business ethics are seriously missing in China.

Some believe that honest people tend to lose out, that they are more likely to be squeezed out. And that’s how companies rationalize their dishonesty and inattention to quality. Once a businessman subscribes to such a mentality, he commits vile acts with a clear conscience. Chinese businesses are so scandal-stricken precisely because of the accumulation of this idea that “one small vice won’t matter.”

*Huang Ming is the vice president of the International Solar Energy Society and president of Himin Solar Energy.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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