What’s with all the negative articles about China in the New York Times lately? Our household has been getting the Sunday Times for the past couple of months, so I’ve been paying closer attention to their content. The first couple of China articles were interesting and disturbing. But after the third and fourth, I started to wonder, are things really that bad in China? Or does the Times have some kind of agenda to make them seem threatening?
Is there a pattern here? These are the articles I noticed, along with some more I just found from browsing the web site:
“Filler in Animal Feed Is Open Secret in China” 4/30
“From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine” 5/6
“Today’s Face of Abortion in China Is a Young, Unmarried Woman” 5/13
“An Export Boom Suddenly Facing a Quality Crisis” 5/18
“When Fakery Turns Fatal” 6/5
“4 in Senate Seek Penalty For China” 6/14
“Reports of Forced Labor at Brick Kilns Unsettle China” 6/16
“The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer” 6/17
“F.D.A. Tracked Poisoned Drugs, but Trail Went Cold in China” 6/17
“As More Toys Are Recalled, Trail Ends in China” 6/19
“China and the Chest Thumpers” 6/20 (Editorial)
“Fast-Growing China Says Little of Child Slavery’s Role” 6/21
“China Tops U.S. in Greenhouse Gas, Group Finds” 6/21 (Reuters)
“The China Puzzle” 6/22 (Editorial)
“My Time as a Hostage, and I’m a Business Reporter” 6/24
It’s a lot of material! The impression one gets after reading all these articles is of capitalism run amok in a society too out of touch with itself to recognize what is happening. This may be entirely accurate, but being the cynical type I am, I wonder if there’s a bit of psychological projection going on as well. After all, most of our contact with Chinese goods comes through American companies who have outsourced their manufacturing to China in pursuit of larger profits and turned a blind eye to the very abuses now being made public. Aren’t they the ones we should be blaming? Perhaps, but then we might have to question our entire Wal*Mart consumer culture and how those prices got so cheap and irresistible. Much easier to choose a scapegoat.
But forget all this pop psych analysis of the zeitgeist… why are the politicians and business people so concerned? I think I found a big honking clue in the “4 in Senate Seek Penalty For China” article:
“The United States trade deficit with China last year was $232 billion, about a third of the total American deficit with its trading partners. After years of accumulating trade surpluses, the Chinese are sitting on an estimated $1.4 trillion in foreign exchange, and have started to use some of that vast reserve to purchase American companies, including a stake in the Blackstone Group last month.”
Ah… now we’re so in debt to China that they can start calling the shots instead of just being a compliant business asset. And that is making people very scared.
The next few years should be interesting. Maybe we’re heading for a Sino-American future, as depicted in Firefly or China Mountain Zhang? It might not be a bad idea to take some lessons in Standard Mandarin…