The first Chinese spacewalk is due to occur on Friday, according to the commander-in-chief of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft. As we have noted before, it will be broadcast live, though there will probably be some time delay, for expediency’s sake.
The countdown for Thursday’s launch has started. China’s third manned space flight comes just five years after its first, when the country joined Russia and the U.S. in the space club. Zhai Zhigang, an air force pilot, will make the walk, and, no doubt, unleash a fresh wave of patriotic pride.
The most senior head to date has rolled in the tainted dairy products scandal. Li Changjiang has resigned as head of the agency responsible for ensuring China’s food supply chain is safe.
Li is the first central government official to lose his job over the scandal, but several local officials have been sacked and several dozen milk brokers and others detained. Wu Xianguo, Party chief of Shijiazhuang City in northern Hebei Province, where Sanlu Group is based, lost his job on Monday, following the sackings of Mayor Ji Chuntang and Vice Mayor Zhang Fawang and three other city officials.
Latest numbers show another jump as the scandal deepens: 53,000 children sickened by melamine-tainted baby formula, 13,000 hospitalized, of whom 104 are in serious condition. Four infants have died.
The fired city officials were blamed for lax supervision and covering up the initial reports of problems with Sanlu’s formula. There is a drive on against officials who fall short on product quality and health and safety standards. A week ago, Meng Xuenong was sacked as governor of Shanxi province following the deadly mining slurry landslide that engulfed Taoshi. The hapless Meng also lost his job as mayor of Beijing following the SARS scandal in 2003. It was after the SARS coverup that Beijing put in place new rules for officials’ accountability.
It now not just melamine in baby formula from one company sold in three provinces, but in dairy products nationwide, and beyond. Chinese dairy products are being pulled off shelves in Hong Kong and Japan. Malaysia and Singapore have banned Chinese milk imports.
At home, consumer outrage is growing. Beijing has ordered free medical treatment for any baby sickened by tainted formula, and hotlines for worried parents have been set up in eight provinces, Xinhua reports. Central government has also extended testing of dairy products and recalls, and promised exemplary punishments for company executive and officials found culpable.
The death toll now stands at four infants, with dozens of babies still in serious condition among the more than 6,200 stricken with kidney stones after consuming tainted formula.
Nearly 10% of milk and drinking yoghurt samples from three leading dairy companies contained melamine, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection. None of which will help shore up public trust at home or abroad already shaken by a series of food scares in recent years involving eggs, pork and seafood.
Props to the PR-focused blog Imagethief for two excellent posts on how the baby milk scandal has been handled, Sanlu Melamine Milk Powder Crisis Becomes A National Issue and Melamine In Sanlu Milk Powder? Now That’s A Crisis!. Well worth the read.
Key point: “Only an irresponsible PR agency proposes suppressing bad news as the core of a PR strategy. That’s not rebuilding or defending a reputation. That’s admitting you can’t help. But suppressing news is an old tradition here, handed down from the highest levels.”
Situation update: Health Minister Chen Zhu says 6,244 infants are ill after consuming the tainted formula as of 8 a.m. on Wednesday, five times the previously announced number. They include 158 with acute kidney failure, of which 94 were in stable condition. That implies 64 are now in serious condition.
The scope of the melamine-contaminated baby milk scandal continues to widen. Batches of tainted formula have now been found produced by 22 companies across China, according to TV reports, here via AFP.
This will shift the focus from Sanlu Group, which has been criticised for being slow to recall the affected products, to the milk brokers who buy from farmers to sell to agribusinesses like Sanlu and who are thought to have been the ones adding the melamine so their milk appears to have a higher protein content. It will also put a spotlight on more local and provincial health authorities.
Meanwhile, Xinhua is reporting that Sanlu’s chairwoman and general manager Tian Wenhua has been sacked from both her day job and as secretary of the Party’s corporation committee.
“The successful earthquake relief efforts fully proved, once again, the superiority of the socialist system, the governing capacity of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the government, the abilities of the People’s Liberation Army, and the strength of the Chinese nation.” So starts Xinhua‘s report of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s remarks at a meeting in Sichuan earlier this month on rebuilding after the devastating May 12 earthquake.
And probably in that order. Wonderfully old school in its way.
Two babies have died and 1,253 are stricken with kidney stones as a result of tainted milk powder, the Health ministry now says. Fifty-three of the sick babies are in critical condition. Most of the cases have occurred in Hebei, Jiangsu and Gansu provinces. The two deaths were in Gansu.
This is a big jump in numbers from those previously reported. Officials say as many as 10,000 infants may have drunk the contaminated formula.
The ministry’s candor stands in contrast with the company’s lengthy delay in alerting the public to the problem that we noted yesterday. Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister, said earlier today that it wasn’t until after Fonterra, the New Zealand agricultural co-operative that is a minority shareholder in the dairy involved, Sanlu Group, alerted the New Zealand government and it in turn contacted Beijing through diplomatic channels, that any action was taken.
None of which makes it sound as if the product-safety systems put in place after the alarms about tainted food, toy, toothpaste and other exported products have taken root.