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After Silence, China Mounts Product Safety PR Offensive

Contaminated wheat gluten is thought to have been the cause of the death of pets in the United States, and after the recall of pet food, the Chinese government started testing all sorts of wheat products before allowing them to be shipped overseas. "We are confident in our product. Our wheat-related products are all in accordance to national standards. The message to the U.S. is that our wheat products are all safe," said Zhao Yi, secretary general of the China Wheat Association.

"We won't avoid saying that of course there are some manufacturers that have problems, but in general it's a pretty good situation," Wang Liang, head of the China Catfish Association, which is affiliated with the Agriculture Ministry.

The catfish group is telling importers that its members are seeking independent verification of quality from an international inspection firm.

Meanwhile, the increasingly hostile trade conflict has left U.S. companies in a vulnerable situation.

Motorola has said it was helping the Chinese government investigate the allegedly exploding phone. But the Schaumburg, Ill., company believes it is "highly unlikely that the cellphone caused this accident," said Yang Boning, a Motorola spokesman in China. Motorola has said it thinks the phone or battery may have been counterfeit.

Nevertheless, the incident has brought out hostility in some Chinese consumers. The headline on one online bulletin board posting blares, "America's Motorola is following Bin Laden's example, killing Chinese with explosion." It quotes from the official New China News Agency in giving examples of past quality problems, though its main purpose seems to be complaining about Motorola's after-sales service.

Dan Harris, a U.S.-based attorney who runs a popular China law blog and represents small to mid-sized companies doing business with China, said the shift in the government's public relations strategy "is definitely smart on their part. They are not going to convince Americans that everything is okay just by denials."

He predicted it would take years, if not decades, to undo the damage done to the reputation of Chinese manufacturers in recent months. "My view is that no matter what they say they are going to do and no matter how much they want to do it, the problem is so massive and so deep-seated that I think it's going to take huge amounts of money and a very long time for it to be cleaned up," he said.

Staff writer Renae Merle in Washington contributed to this report.

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