Wednesday, September 05, 2007

China attacked over products and spying

Robert Gates - "precautions employed" to prevent further attacks

China is back in the headlines again after yet another safety recall. Mattel, the biggest toy manufacturer in the USA, has ordered the recall of a number of Barbie doll accessories found to contain excessive quantities of lead. It is the third such recall implemented by the toy firm and has resulted in the removal of more than 20 million products from the shelves of outlets worldwide [BBC]. Although criticism has been targeted at China over lax quality control, some have said Mattel should have taken more care in its oversight of the manufacturing process. Christopher Devereux, managing director of ChinaSavvy, told the BBC "There's no excuse to let so many products go through with lead in the paint. They should be testing. It's not difficult. There are hundreds of quality control laboratories in China."

There was some good news regards a report two weeks ago which inferred that textile products exported to New Zealand had excessive quantities of formaldehyde present. However after further tests the children’s clothes under suspicion were found to contain formaldehyde within permitted levels. Formaldehyde is used in the textile industry to prevent the development of mildew, but excessive amounts can cause skin irritation and even cancer. The International Herald Tribune [IHT] reported this week that a television company had employed ‘flawed tests’ for the chemical. “All independent tests carried out to date show that clothes sold in New Zealand are within international standards for levels of formaldehyde and ... claims made on TV3's Target show are quite simply false," New Zealand's retailers' association CEO told National Radio. John Albertson said that fresh tests at AgResearch in New Zealand, the SGS Textile testing center in Shanghai and Intertek in Hong Kong all confirmed that formaldehyde was not at dangerous levels in tested garments.

But whilst recalls and accusations of bad manufacturing processes attain front page news, when the all clear is given there is rarely the same high profile reporting.
The continued bad publicity is also doing no good for the ‘Made in China’ label. Many factories are under threat of closing and hundreds of Chinese workers have already lost their jobs in the wake of the recalls [BBC].
Chinese security services were also at the receiving end of criticism Tuesday after it was alleged China had hacked government computers in the US, the UK and in Germany. The Guardian ran with a front page story on Wednesday and said the People’s Liberation Army were believed to be involved in attacking computers at the Foreign Office and other government departments. The MoD has declined to comment on whether their data bases were compromised. The front page lead came on the back of reports that the Pentagon in the US was attacked by Chinese hackers [CNN]. According to the Financial Times in London, the hackers had crashed part of the Secretary of Defence’s computer system. One US official was quoted by the paper as saying there was a "high level of confidence" that the People's Liberation Army was responsible. But China has denied the attacks and released a statement saying the accusations “reflected a Cold War mentality” [BBC]. Last week it was reported that German government computers had been compromised.

In June this year the Pentagon was said to have been attacked by Chinese hackers bringing the e-mail system crashing [BBC]. Robert Gates, US Defense Secretary, said that a variety of precautions were being employed to prevent further such attacks. However, this recent instance of computer hacking will increase concerns in US security circles. George Bush is set to meet Hu Jintao during his attendance at the APEC meeting in Australia, but it is not yet known whether he will raise the issue with his Chinese counterpart. However, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has already raised issue with Beijing after Chinese attacks on government computers. Der Spiegel, a German weekly publication, said that computers at the Chancellory and other government ministries had been infected with Trojan viruses or spy programs.

The only comment President Bush has so far made on the matter is less inflammatory. "I'm very aware that a lot of our systems are vulnerable to cyber attack from a variety of places," George Bush said at a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. "In terms of whether or not I'll bring this up to countries that we suspect may -- from which there may have been an attack, I may."
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