China and Japan scrambled to ease public alarm Thursday as hundreds of Japanese reported feeling ill from eating Chinese-made dumplings, triggering an emergency cabinet session in Tokyo.
The cabinet met to discuss a response as television networks broadcast the stories of people who said they vomited, passed out and felt near death after eating frozen meat dumplings containing pesticide.
AdvertisementChina -- Japan's largest trading partner -- said pre-export tests had found no chemical residue in the product, but still ordered the companies which made them to halt production and recall similar items from Japan.
Meanwhile South Korea ordered checks on all dumplings from China, although officials said none of the brands at the centre of the Japan scare appeared to have been imported there.
Whatever the cause, the incident is another public relations blow for China, whose rapid growth is linked to its status as the world's manufacturing hub.
Scandals over a range of Chinese-made goods, including pet food, toothpaste, toys and other products have led to boycott calls in the United States.
Japan is heavily dependent on food imports, with China its second biggest supplier after the United States.
Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura raised the issue during talks with China's Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei, who was visiting to arrange a rare visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao as the two nations work to boost often strained ties.
The Chinese official 'said that this was regrettable,' Komura told reporters after the talks.
'This is a grave concern for China as well,' Komura added. 'This is about food safety, the most important interest for people.
'But it will not hurt relations between Japan and China.'
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told parliament he discussed food safety during his own trip to Beijing in December.
'When I visited China last year Premier Wen Jiabao and I agreed that food safety is a common challenge for the both countries,' Fukuda said, adding, 'I think the latest problem will also be handled in this framework.'
Kyodo News said 498 people in 38 of Japan's 47 prefectures had told authorities they had felt ill after eating dumplings imported from China.
A health ministry official said the government had confirmed only that 13 people fell ill, including a five-year-old girl in serious condition.
TV Asahi broadcast interviews with a family in the western town of Takasago who said they spent up to three weeks in hospital after eating the dumplings.
'They tasted bitter. I felt dizzy some 30 seconds after I had them, and I collapsed,' said an 18-year-old boy who, like other family members, asked not to be identified.
Then, five minutes later, his 51-year-old father's body started twitching. 'With so much nausea and diarrhoea, I thought for two days that I was dying,' the father said.
The 47-year-old mother said she could not walk or talk. 'My whole body was paralysed and my eyes kept watering,'she said. 'I don't want to buy frozen food any more.'
In China, authorities promised an investigation, but said pre-export tests on ginger and cabbage in the dumplings showed them to be up to standard.
Vice-Premier Wu Yi called for an all-out effort to ensure product safety, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency, without mentioning the dumpling issue.
'Food and drug safety is directly linked to the health and safety of the people,' she said.
But shoppers in Japan were alarmed. 'I think it's very scary because it's not written conspicuously where products are from and what additives they put in,' said Norie Kuwahara, 58, shopping for fresh fish in Tokyo.
Kuwahara added: 'It's also scary because a lot of Japanese food companies use Chinese-produced food.'
Sachiko Tabei, 59, said she was concerned products from China were slipping unnoticed into goods labelled as made in Japan.
'Not only am I worried about food produced directly in China, but also about Japanese makers that are big household names,' she said.