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Mengniu and I

Documentarist Wang Xiaoshan writes about the corruption at Mengniu Dairy.

On 24th Dec, 2011, the media revealed that Mengniu Dairy products had been tested positive for excessive Aflatoxin M1, a toxic, carcinogenic substance. It was 140per cent above the legal limit. The netizen, 'a_mao' posted on Weibo saying he hoped Yu Jianrong or Wang Xiaoshan could stand up and lead the boycott of Mengniu. On 27th December, I announced the boycott of Mengniu on Weibo. The content was: Since many Mengniu products after 2008 have contained constituents harmful to the human body, I promise: To refuse to drink Mengniu products; encourage other people to refuse Mengniu products; tell other people that Mengniu is a rubbish company; not to work for Mengniu; not to take contract orders or advertisement hiresfor Mengniu; refuse as much as possible media containing Mengniu adverts and programmes sponsored by Mengniu.

Mengniu Dairy is a leading company in the Chinese dairy industry. From 2003, its total sales and liquid milk sales have always been top of the industry. I was boycotting Mengniu based on the series of safety incidences at Mengniu. I commissioned friends to produce a 1 minute video, summarising the Mengniu incidences since 2008, as follows:

2008: Mengniu milk powder and liquid milk products tested positive for 'melamine';

2009: OMP added to Mengniu 'Te Lun Su' products was revealed to be carcinogenic;

2010: 18 students were poisoned after drinking Mengniu milk;

2011: 251 students were poisoned after drinking Mengniu milk; it was discovered that Mengniu products exceeded the legal limit for Aflatoxin M1 content.

These are not the only food safety incidences from Mengniu that were exposed, but there was not enough space in the video. 

My boycott of Mengniu began on Weibo. When I was posting microblogs about Mengniu, I sent them to the current star spokespeople of Mengniu, such as Xiao Yaxuan, Ding Junhui, Zhang Ziyi, Little S, etc. Later, through the replies of the fans of these stars, I discovered that Han Gen has more impact on adolescents than others. At one point, I continuously sent content about Mengniu incidences to Han Gen, even sending text messages to his agent and assistant, urging Han Gen to distance himself from Mengniu, to maintain his good image. It's a shame that he never replied.

On Weibo I also organised three 'competitions'. The first was an essay contest about Mengniu safety incidences. The second was called 'Mengniu Sad Calligraphy Competition', requiring that calligraphy works contained at least the eight words: 'For a healthy life, stay away from Mengniu'. The third was a competition for a short film boycotting Mengniu. I was the judge for the competition, and I also offer the prize money out of my own pocket. It seemed popular.

What truly created a problem was broadcasting the aforementioned video boycotting Mengniu. A friend of mine had the right to operate an LED screen on Dongmen Culture Square in Shenzhen. He broadcast this video on his LED screen. Two hours later, Shenzhen authorities asked him to shut down the screening. After two weeks, the friend who broadcasted the video was fined 5,000 RMB, he and his wife's names were put on a 'blacklist'. They cannot re-register the company in Shenzhen. Highlights: A few days after paying the fine, a staff member of the Bureau for Industry and Commerce that imposed the fine, revealed he once bought a whole box of Mengniu milk. He got stomach problems after drinking it, but Mengniu only compensated with two boxes of milk. He was very angry and said he was willing to be interviewed. But later Mengniu found him, I don't know what they said, and he pchanged his mind. 

Previously, 'running away' was only a scene that appeared in films. I didn't think it would happen to me. In the end of May 2012, after hearing that someone wanted to 'cross provinces' and take me to Inner Mongolia where Mengniu is based, I had to fly to Hong Kong as an emergency. On 6th June, I arrived in Macau. Having fled for 10 days, I decided to return to Beijing. Before returning I posted a statement:

Since December 27th, 2011, because of the Mengniu 'Aflatoxin' incident, I started campaigns to boycott Mengniu. It's now been almost half a year. With a clear conscience, I can say that I've done my best - spent over 10,000 RMB, organised several online campaigns and facilitated a film boycotting Mengniu, broadcasting it beyond the internet. This is all I can do. I expect friends with greater capability to continue the campaign. I'll soon return to Beijing. Before returning, I'll announce the date, time, flight number or train number. I'd be glad to meet you. First let me be clear: 1. I do not plan to go to Inner Mongolia. If I appear in Inner Mongolia in the near future, it won't be of my own will; 2. I love China, my friends, and my life. I will never commit suicide; 3. I've always been careful crossing the road. If there's a flyover I would never use the pedestrian crossing. If there's a car accident (or other coincidences), it's not an accident; 4. I have few enemies. If I'm beaten, kidnapped or my house is searched and property confiscated, it's not caused by personal enmity. 5. I've already employed Si Weijiang and Pu Zhiqiang as representative lawyers. For all legal matters, please contact them. 6. I have microblogs on Sina, Sohu, Tencent and NetEase. If in 24 hours, you don't see a post from me on the above four microblogs, I can be considered 'missing'. Certain microblogs would irregularly delete user accounts or prohibit speech, so any one of the microblogs is sufficient source from me.

In fact, this is a sincere declaration, I was really quite scared. When I was interviewed by a reporter from The Washington Post, I told the reporter that ever since I was young I wanted to be a hero. Now I think I am one.

Of course, if I could choose, I'd rather live in an era without heroes, or where heroes are not needed.

In June 2012, COFCO finally took over Mengniu. The original founding team all retired from Mengniu management. The new President expressed via friends that he wanted to sit down and talk. The official microblog of Mengniu Dairy at least superficially started to value discussions with netizens and invited netizens to visit on their 'open day'. I said: 1. I'm not interested in discussing with companies who want to 'cross provinces' to capture me. 2. There is no need to visit a place that's been well prepared for the visit. 3. I don't believe they can really reform.

On the microblog, I posted this reply to the invitation: If Mengniu Dairy agrees to issue 10 permits, so the permit holders can inspect all Mengniu sites and branches at any time and at any location without obstruction, I would consider inviting nine netizens to accept the invitation, and take on the monitoring role.

Mengniu Dairy said that such permits do not exist and rejected my proposal.

This article is also available in Chinese.

The Prime Minister still has questions to answer about his plans for Syria

Cameron needs a better plan for Syria than mere party-politicking, says Ian Lucas.

I was unfortunate enough to hear our Prime Minister discussing the vexed issue of military action in Syria on the Today programme yesterday. It was a shocking experience - David Cameron simply cannot resist trying to take party political advantage of an extremely serious crisis. It is quite clear that there are massive humanitarian, military and political issues at stake in Syria. A number of international and national powers including the United States and Russia are taking military action within Syria and David Cameron said in the broadest terms that he thought that the UK should do so too.

The questions then arise - what should we do, and why should we do it?

Let me make it clear that I do believe there are circumstances in which we should take military action - to assist in issues which either affect this country's national interest and defence, or which are so serious as to justify immediate action on humanitarian grounds. It is for the Prime Minister, if he believes that such circumstances are in place, to make the case.

The Prime Minister was severely shaken by the vote of the House of Commons to reject military action against President Assad in 2013. This was a military course which was decided upon in a very short time scale, in discussion with allies including France and the United States.

As we all know, Parliament, led by Ed Miliband’s Labour Opposition and supported by a significant number of Conservative MPs, voted against the Government’s proposals. David Cameron's reaction to that vote was one of immediate petulance. He ruled out military action, actually going beyond the position of most of his opponents. The proposed action against Assad action was stressed at the time by President Obama to be very limited in scope and directed specifically against the use of chemical weapons. It was not intended to lead to the political end of President Assad and no argument was made by the governments either in the United States or in the UK that this was an aim. What was proposed was short, sharp military action to deal specifically with the threat of chemical weapons. Following the vote in the House of Commons, there was an immediate reaction from both United States and France. I was an Opposition spokesman at the time, and at the beginning of the week, when the vote was taken, France was very strident in its support for military action. The House of Commons vote changed the position immediately and the language that was used by President Obama, by John Kerry and others .

The chemical weapons threat was the focus of negotiation and agreement, involving Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his connections with Syria.  The result was that Assad agreed to dispense with chemical weapons on a consensual basis and no military action took place.

David Cameron felt humiliated by this outcome and loses no opportunity to suggest that the decision was wrong.  He is determined that he should revisit the issue of bombing in Syria, though now action there has elided to action against Islamic State. He has delegated Michael Fallon to prepare the ground for a vote on military action in Parliament. Fallon is the most political of Defence Secretaries - before he became a minister he was regularly presented by the Conservative party as its attack dog against Labour. He gives me the impression of putting the Conservative Party’s interest, at all times, above the national interest. Nothing in his tenure at Defence has changed my view of him.

I was therefore very sceptical what when, in September, Fallon suggested that there should be briefings of members of Parliament to inform us of the latest position on Syria. It turns out that I was right - at the Conservative party conference, Mr Fallon has been referring to these briefings as part of the process that is changing minds in the House of Commons towards taking military action in Syria. He is doubtless taking his orders from the Prime Minister, who is determined to have a vote on taking part in military action in Syria, this time against Islamic State.  

If the Prime Minister wishes to have the support of the House of Commons for military action he needs to answer the following questions: 

What is the nature of the action that he proposes?

What additional impact would action by the UK have, above and beyond that undertaken by the United States and France?

What is the difference in principle between military action in Syria by the UK and military action in Syria by Russia?

What would be the humanitarian impact of such action?

What political steps would follow action and what political strategy does the government have to resolve the Syrian crisis?

The reality is that the United States, UK, France and other western powers have been hamstrung on Syria by their insistence Assad should go. This situation has continued for four years now and there is no end in sight.

The Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary have yet to convince me that additional military action in Syria, this time by the United Kingdom, would help to end Syria's agony and stem the human tragedy that is the refugee crisis engulfing the region and beyond. If the Prime Minister wishes to have support from across the House of Commons, he should start behaving like the Prime Minister of a nation with responsibilities on the United Nations Security Council and stop behaving like a party politician who seeks to extract political advantage from the most serious of international situations.

Ian Lucas is the Labour MP for Wrexham.