China seizes on Mattel apology to emphasise safety

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BEIJING, Sep 24 (Reuters) China highlighted Mattel's apology over its recall of huge numbers of toys today to press Beijing's claim that its exports are generally safe and foreign politicians and media have unfairly hyped quality scares.

Before those recalls, a spate of complaints involving unsafe Chinese products ranging from other toys and seafood to toothpaste that entered EU and US markets prompted calls on both sides of the Atlantic for stricter scrutiny of made-in-China goods.

Thomas Debrowski, executive vice president of worldwide operations for toymaker Mattel Inc, apologised on Friday following recalls of about 21 million Chinese-made toys over five weeks. The recalls stoked US complaints that lax Chinese quality controls threatened foreign consumers.

''Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologises personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,'' Debrowski told China's quality watchdog chief, Li Changjiang, in Beijing.

The vast majority of recalled toys suffered from a design defect that was Mattel's own fault, Debrowski said.

Mattel subsequently issued a statement saying his words had been ''mischaracterised'' -- though it did not specify how -- and his apology was directed at buyers of its toys.

But China's state-run media have seized on his remarks to make their government's case that the country has been the victim of unfair accusations echoed throughout the international media.

''The apology, though delayed, should help dispel the suspicion American customers harbour against Chinese-made products,'' the China Daily said in an editorial.

''Its (Mattel's) reputation will be impaired when the whole truth about the recalls is finally made public.'' Last week Mattel CEO Robert Eckert had to defend his company's toy safety record as Democratic lawmakers accused him of stonewalling a US congressional probe into production practices in China.

The People's Daily -- the official voice of China's ruling Communist Party -- said the apology showed the wave of Western media reports questioning the country's export safety was unfair.

''If China's toy exports depended solely on a cheap price and did not ensure quality, we would never have won such a massive worldwide market,'' the paper said, citing a toy-making association official in Guangdong, the southern province where Mattel produces many of its toys.

The paper said that China-based suppliers and workers had suffered unfairly because of the Mattel recalls.

The International Herald Leader, a newspaper issued by the official Xinhua news agency, called for US news media to follow Mattel's example and apologise for what it called flagrant bias.

''The US media have also made an irreplaceable contribution to making made-in-China wear these dark accusations for so long,'' the paper said.

But Xinhua has also reported that police detained four Chinese nationals accused of having supplied one of Mattel's contract manufacturers, the Lida Toy Company, with the substandard paint behind the first recall in August.

REUTERS SZ AS1108

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