September 25th, 2009
11:39 AM GMT
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HONG KONG, China - This week, I found myself at a Chinese restaurant, staring, chopsticks in hand, at a basket of steaming chicken feet. How on earth could two economic powers - the U.S. and China - be fighting over these little claws?

China is threatening to cut off imports of American chicken meat and auto parts - a decision made after the Obama administration announced they would act on an existing World Trade Organization rule and slap a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires sold in the U.S.

But is this a real threat? The Chinese love chicken feet (a dish translated as "Phoenix talons") - especially the kind from America. Chef Tsui Kam Tong told me American chicken feet are bigger, meatier and tastier than the rest.

U.S. poultry farmers breed larger birds so they can sell more breast meat. But at home, there is no market for the feet (outside of pet food companies) so suppliers are more than happy to sell them to the Chinese.

The claws are deep-fried to make them crispy then steamed so the cartilage is chewy and soft. The feet are seasoned - typically with black beans and barbecue sauce - and steamed again before serving.

 To eat chicken feet properly, Chef Tsui explained, you have to chew each mouthful slowly to get the flavor out of the skin and cartilage. And don't forget to suck on the bones, he said.

Chef Tsui prepares 40 plates of chicken feet a day. He said cooking the dish wouldn't be the same without claws from the U.S.

Hopefully, Beijing and Washington won't get bogged down in tit-for-tat trade disputes and lose sight of the bigger issues.

Perhaps, both sides should sit down to a dim sum lunch with this Chinese specialty.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Sharon McEachern

    I say let the Chinese have our chicken feet when they stop making lead-tainted and lead-painted toys.

    Mattel, the world's largest toymaker, continues to have the majority of its toys manufactured in China. That's two years after being responsible for huge toy recalls in the U.S. because of lead-painted and lead-tainted toys - most recalls were Mattel toys. Congress passed legislation last year, setting strict mandates on lead, lead paint and phthalate levels. The law now requires third-party, independent testing of all proucts for children 12 years old and younger for everyone - except Mattel.

    The federal regulator, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, SECRETLY EXEMPTED MATTEL. It was Mattel's toys which prompted the legislation in the first place; yet, the giant toymaker got a pass. Mattel does not want independent safety testing of its toys; they're going to test their own toys. Huh? How come the Feds are being lenient on the worst offender endangering American kids with lead poisoning? Some cozy relationship between government and big business. Ethic Soup as a great piece on Mattel at:

    I am surprised that Mattel is still selling toys, like nothing happened. I expected a parent boycott. Don't forget, lead poisoning is the number one environmental illness of American children. It usually happens with toddlers (who put everything in their mouths) and then affects their health for the rest of their lives.

    September 26, 2009 at 6:03 pm |
  2. varsha

    Mutual trade is important for both countries especially to avoid undue pressure on any one's currency. The dollars that went into China from US will find ways to come back to US in some way or the other, in form of regular imports from US or capital investments in US treasury bonds etc. Thats how international markets function.
    But mutual trade requires mutual transparency as well. However hard China tries to project its image as investor friendly nation, trying to cover up the the manipulation it does in the process, the rule it bends, the human rights it ignores, they do get exposed one day. It is better to listen to one's own conscience in such matters and behave ethically rather than being pointed out later by somebody.

    September 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm |
  3. Jim

    varsha couldn't be more naive. Mutual trade is not important to both countries as she asserts. It is important to the very wealthy in America and China. They (the very wealthy in the US) have sold out the middle class in pursuit of extreme greed which has resulted in the greatest concentration of wealth in the history of our country. It is sad that most people still see the international trade deficit as inconsequential (or even helpful) to the middle class. Until our middle class is completely wiped out, everyone will remain indifferent...but by that time China will own and operate us as a wholly owned subsidiary.

    September 30, 2009 at 3:46 am |
  4. Lim Boon Chuan

    We must remember that trade is a Win Win situation for both countries. The current recession is causing more aggressive bickering over the diminishing economic pie. Both countries aren't doing each other a favor, they trade because it is mutually advantageous to do so. Smoot-Hawley Tariff and the rest of the Acts enacted during the Great Depression was a testimonial of the irrationality of tit for tat actions, that was instrumental in prolonging the pains of the Great Depression. May we learn from history and avoid another similar confrontation

    September 30, 2009 at 6:27 am |
  5. Brett from Tokyo


    So they ban import of chicken's feet and pig's innards over us not allowing the unsafe tires into the US???

    Get real...

    September 30, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
  6. varsha

    When it comes to concentration of wealth as Jim said above, 90% people in the world (& counting) are naive like me as they're not wealthy (& vice versa), but although I've never been to China or America, I can certainly say that the import-export industry has given not only the wealthy but the middle class or poor people better opportunities to earn more value than they could locally, directly or indirectly.

    Mutual trade is all about providing goods or services where it has more demand & hence fetches more value. The country which doesn't have enough farm land will have to import foodgrains to feed its people & the one having low oil reserves will have to import oil to sustain industrial growth.

    A few wealthy individuals taking advantage of this & 'concentrating wealth' have to be taken for granted because there's no remedy to it. Greed is there in the economic system just like tendency to disorder/randomness in the universe (second law of thermodynamics). Greed is a global phenomenon, all the economic theories take it neatly & practically into account. I don't know the reason, as I happen to be naive.

    But that shouldn't take away the advantages & overall efficiency that comes with mutual trade. So don't worry China, let US be your shareholder for a change! The plain fact is that 'US needs China, and China needs US'. Not just for chicken & tyres..

    October 1, 2009 at 8:55 pm |
  7. jeffery

    nice post, thanks for the great info, cant wait to read more from you.

    November 12, 2009 at 7:38 pm |

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