Counterfeit products driving Chinese shoppers overseas

TOKYO - Two weeks before the Chinese New Year, Japan's tourism and retail industries are excited about another round of bakugai (explosive buying) by Chinese visitors.

But for policymakers in Beijing, Chinese consumers' insatiable appetite for overseas goods is a headache. All that buying represents an outflow of money. This is a serious problem for the government, which hopes domestic consumers will prop up the faltering economy. It has launched a campaign to encourage people to spend more money back home, but it is an uphill battle.

What's in a name?

A report by China's state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Feng Fei, vice minister of industry and information technology, as saying the biggest difference between foreign and domestic products lies in the popularity and influence of brands. He mentioned a survey that showed there was little difference in the quality of rice cooked in a Japanese electric rice steamer and one made in China.

While he offered no details, Feng may have been referring to a programme aired last year by China Central Television, the state-run TV broadcaster. In the programme, 10 people took a blind taste test of rice prepared in two similarly priced rice cookers -- one made in Japan, the other in China. Five people said the rice prepared in the Chinese cooker tasted better, while two said there was no difference in quality.

Of course, one cannot draw conclusions about product quality based on the opinions of 10 people. Internet postings about the programme were sceptical about the reliability of the survey. One typical response said that if the two rice cookers were priced about the same, the Japanese rice cooker must have been a low-end product, while the Chinese one was a high-end model.

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