I was sitting in a plastics recycling conference in Beijing on Nov. 6, the day of the U.S. presidential election, when someone speaking at the event drew an analogy between the U.S. vote and a choice facing plastics recycling companies in China.
The speaker was referring to how China's scrap plastics industry now has two competing trade associations to choose from, a new group called the China Scrap Plastics Association and the older group, the Plastics Recycling Committee of the China Plastic Processing Industry Association.
When I opened my conference guide at the CSPA event, I saw something that made me think of another analogy from American politics — the media fact-check of claims made by political candidates.
This may not be so well-known in China, but it has become common for American media and public interest groups to formally analyze what the candidates say for accuracy.
They'll give reports on the truthfulness of political advertisements, for example, highlighting information the ad may be conveniently forgetting to mention.
Which brings me back to my program guide for the CSPA conference, which is called “ChinaReplas.”
On pages 8 and 9 of the 288-page guide I saw a prominent, two-page, full-color advertisement in Chinese and English showing ChinaReplas conferences going back to when they started in 2006.
It has group photos of participants at each event, and lists the dates and the hotels where they were held, such as: Nov. 18-19, 2006, Grand City Hotel, Shenzhen; Nov. 4-5, 2010, Sheraton Hotel, Ningbo; and April 16-17, 2012, HuaTing Hotel, Shanghai.
Here's the problem: What the ad in CSPA's book forgets to mention, and why a fact-check is needed, is that the conferences from 2006-11 were not CSPA events.
They were actually events sponsored by the other group, the PRC-CPPIA.
Only one among the seven events shown, April 2012 in Shanghai, was a CSPA-affiliated event, sponsored by Wang's China Scrap Plastics Magazine.
The reason this is confusing to the public is because both groups are calling their events ChinaReplas.
It was clear to Plastics News reporters attending both events that this puzzled some participants. It's also a sore point with the PRC-CPPIA, which thinks CSPA is misleading people by using the same name.
I asked CSPA's secretary-general, Jason Wang, why the ad links the PRC-CPPIA's ChinaReplas with the CSPA's ChinaReplas.
He defended the ad, saying it's correct to link all of them because he and his consulting company, Beijing Guojia Jiye Information Co. Ltd., organized all of the ChinaReplas events mentioned in the ad back to 2006.
That is true, but it ignores a key piece of information — Wang and Beijing Guojia organized the 2006-11 events under the sponsorship of PRC-CPPIA.
Until late 2011, Wang was the staff director for the PRC-CPPIA group, but he left in a dispute with CPPIA leaders. He's since formed the CSPA, with plastics recycling companies that were unhappy with PRC-CPPIA. (Wang says the consulting company controls the ChinaReplas name.)
Before I go on, I want to be clear that Plastics News is not endorsing one group over the other. How many trade groups the industry has is for companies to decide.
CSPA has every right to compete, and I talked to people in Beijing who said they were spending their time and money with CSPA because they were disappointed in PRC-CPPIA for not communicating enough information about government policies, a key topic for recyclers.
But having the same name for two separate conferences is confusing, and this ad further blurs the line in a way that I think is deceptive.
It should be noted that one of the photos in the ad from a previous ChinaReplas shows in very small print that it was PRC-CPPIA event. But you have to almost pull out a magnifying glass to see it, it's not language that CSPA put in the ad to make things any clearer, and it doesn't change the overall implication of the ad.
For companies, it's an important financial decision to decide which trade shows and conferences to spend money and time to attend. Those companies deserve straightforward information from groups that claim to be representing the public, like an association.
Both of the ChinaReplas events bring in foreign exhibitors that want to sell their equipment and recycled materials to the Chinese market.
Conferences like these can be significant sources of revenue for groups, so they of course want to attract as many people as possible. Competition can be intense.
It's not the first time CSPA has seemed to blur the line.
An advertisement CSPA took out in an American recycling magazine to promote its ChinaReplas trade conference used the email of [email protected], which implies that its event is somehow connected with the CPPIA group and its older ChinaReplas conferences, when that is not true.
Bottom line: If the ad in the CSPA program was an American political advertisement, it would get a failing grade for accuracy.
Steve Toloken is Plastics News' Guangzhou, China-based Asia bureau chief.