As an Asian, I am aghast that Thomas Friedman is picking up the propaganda line coming out of China and disseminating it on the New York Times editorial page.

From today’s editorial:

What if China had a WikiLeaker and we could see what its embassy in Washington was reporting about America?

Reality check:

China would jail anyone who even tried to do such a thing.

Unlike the US, they censor the internet, and help other countries such as Zimbabwe censor it so that news of what is really happening can’t get out.

True, there are other ways to protest. Notice that Nobel prize recently given to Liu Xiaobo? Al Jezeerah reports:

Liu is in prison for helping to organise and disseminate a document called Charter 08, which calls for sweeping political reforms in China, including freedom of assembly, expression and religion. The 54-year-old literary critic and former professor was sentenced last Christmas Day to 11 years in jail for subversion.

In response to the Oslo announcement, China said that giving the prize to “criminal” Liu ran contrary to the principles of the award, and warned ties with Norway would suffer.

Yeah, how dare he criticize the emperor/party oligarchy.

But what westerners don’t understand is that Liu Xiaobo is not a political dissident, but a poet. In China, poets are revered (whereas in America, few poets have any influence, thanks to the degeneration of language in poetry into bad prose).

Take for example Xiu’s poem A Small Rat in Prison.

Is it about a rodent going out to eat, or is it reminding us that “strong walls do not a prison make”? Or is it criticizing those who govern China, keeping the ordinary folks imprisoned, yet reminding the party oligarchy that they cannot keep everyone silent and obedient?

Yet Friedman makes up an imaginary Chinese memo that ridicules Americans for their love of freedom.

There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics. They fight over things like — we are not making this up — how and where an airport security officer can touch them.

Yeah, imagine ordinary folks taking that pesky fourth amendment seriously. How dare they.

Presumably, Friedman would like rule of the educated elite, as in China, to a pesky democracy where every redneck thinks he has rights. For the rest of us, who are not part of the ruling class, we agree with Churchill, who said, there isn’t any government as bad as a democracy, except for the alternative.

Right after a sentence repeating the cliche about Americans rarely traveling abroad, Friedman then argues that the “poor reception” on cellphones in the US “proves”American inferiority.

Reality check. The problem is that in New York City, all those skyscrapers block cellphone coverage.

Yet what Friedman doesn’t seem to realize that, unlike the US, there was no “landline” telephone service in most countries unless you were rich.

Wire costs money, and here in the Third World, stealing telephone lines made of copper and reselling it is a problem. but put up a cellphone tower, and sell a load for fifty cents for 100 text messages and voila, instant communications. Even our maids and drivers have access to a cellphone.

But Friedman doesn’t mention is how cellphones expand the freedom of the ordinary people. They are harder to control than the internet, which is why certain Chinese factory protests organized with cellphones, (and the Green Revolution in Iran was “twittered”.)

Another pesky little detail that Friedman also doesn’t mention is that much of China’s prosperity is due to an undervalued Yuan, and low wages, both of which allow China to export artificially underpriced and cheap (and often shoddy) goods to the world.

But what Mr. Friedman really overlooks is how Chinese shady practices (and bribes to corrupt government officials) is holding down prosperity in places like the Philippines and in many African countries.

Buy locally, save the planet? Reality check, please.

It’s cheaper to buy Chinese items here in the Philippines than to produce them locally, and even if the government places a ban on them, a simple bribe will let you smuggle them in.

I’ll give an example from our rural area. Local onion farmers have gone bankrupt due to cheap Chinese onions being smuggled in and lowering the prices so much that the local farmers can’t make a profit.

CABANATUAN CITY, Philippines—The importation of onion bulbs—legal and illegal—is the main culprit in the low buying price of onions in the country, according to a former Malacañang official…”The reason for the oversupply [of onions] is due to illegal importation.

And how many of the Chinese food imports are contaminated with pesticides or other chemicals?

Yes, I usually defend “high tech” chemical/GM food as being the way to prevent starvation, but let’s not overlook what is being done to countries like the Philippines, where local businesses can’t compete. What makes it worse is that our intellectuals are influenced by the rich American “Green” activist ideas, who insist on promoting organic foods here in the Philippines.

Our family grows organic rice, but the dirty little secret is that to buy it costs two to three times that of imported rice, in a country where many can’t even afford the government subsidized rice. Multiply this by a hundred other items, and you see the problem.
In effect, the “green” movement influence on our government ignores that their policies are simply making China rich, and local Pinoys poor: because no matter how many “pure food” laws are passed, and no matter how many honest officials try to implement the laws, the reality is that local officials will simply get rich on bribes to look the other way when goods are smuggled in or substandard goods are sold in the local markets.

Another way that Chinese make a profit is by “stealing” the technology and designs from other countries and by looking the other way when local criminal organizations produce counterfeit goods looking identical to, but lacking the quality of, brand name goods. Shoddy construction results in thousands killed during recent earthquakes in China. But the real killer is counterfeit drugs,

The developing world still records the majority of deaths. In China, between 200,000 and 300,000 people are estimated to die each year because of counterfeit or substandard medicines. The WHO estimates that 200,000 of the one million malaria deaths a year would be prevented if all the drugs were genuine.

We see this problem in the Philippines, where the cheaper “generic” medicines may or may not work. But even in the US, it is a growing problem.

Little of this gets more than an occasional “blips” on the radar of the major media in the US. If one finds cadmium or lead in children’s toys or glasses, news stories usually blame  the US distributors, not the Chinese factory who manufactured the items, and especially not the corrupt Chinese officials who took bribes to look the other way and let them be exported. Ditto for poisoned cat food or fake heparin.

Too often the US news stories even quote Chinese authorities that the sophisticated substitution of cheap ingredients that could pass quality control testing was a mere “mistake”, not a criminal act.

Isn’t Mr. Friedman aware of such things? It doesn’t appear to be so.

Then there is this: From StrategyPage:

One of the more glaring aspects of the corruption is the amount of counterfeiting going on. Patents, copyrights and trademarks are largely ignored, making it difficult for Chinese entrepreneurs to start companies producing innovative, and profitable,  products. It’s too easy make more profitable counterfeits. Some are quite good, or at least adequate. They range from DVDs of hit movies, to spare parts (for autos, airplanes and industrial machinery) and fake iPhones and other high-tech items. This includes military equipment and weapons. The only thing that keeps quality up among  counterfeiters is the domestic market, which will stop buying if the fake is absolute crap. Thus your fake iPhone or iPad has to work. Not as well as the real thing, but enough to be worth the money (usually less than a third of what you’d pay in the U.S.)

Yeah. Stealing and copying is so much cheaper than paying for your own research and devlopment.

All of Friedman’s editorial is praising the Chinese “potemkin village“.

China has made huge strides in improving their economy, but at the price of limited freedom (including freedom of workers to strike), low wages for ordinary factory workers, manipulating the world’s financial markets to it’s own advantage, and by corruption on many levels. Despite it’s “green” propaganda, China is one of the world’s major polluters, and even exports food contaminated with pesticides and chemicals, due to it’s farming practices. including using chemicals banned in other countries. And Chinese bribery to corrupt officials in Asian and Africa means a neo-colonialism that exploits local economies to the advantage of China, while undermining the ability of these countries to expand their own local businesses.

Friedman ends his editorial by bashing American big business for not being “green” enough.

Isn’t Friedman aware that China is actually a mass polluter whose pollution has poisoned their own people.

From the journal Pediatrics:

RESULTS: China relies on coal for approximately 70% to 75% of its energy needs, consuming 1.9 billion tons of coal each year. In addition to CO(2), the major greenhouse gas, coal burning in China emits vast quantities of particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide, arsenic, and mercury. Automobiles emit nitrogen dioxide and benzene in addition to particulate matter and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Seventy percent of Chinese households burn coal or biomass for cooking and heating, which contaminates indoor air. Adverse effects of combustion-related air pollution include reduced fetal and child growth, pulmonary disease including asthma, developmental impairment, and increased risk of cancer

The “green” activists, who are rightly trying to keep Americans from being killed by pollution, are playing into the Chinese expansion by stopping the development of wind power (kills birds, ruins the view), hydroelectric power (destroys fish), local oil drilling (save the polar bear).

By trying to stop economic expansion by federal regulations and fiats, in the name of saving the planet, the result will be a China that can expand without oversight to fill the vacuum with shoddy, counterfeit, and often chemically contaminated goods.

Finally, I find it ironic that Friedman calls his editorial “WikiChina”. Wikileaks has nothing on Chinese hackers. From an AFP article on Spacewar:

Nov 17, 2010
Highly sensitive Internet traffic on US government and military websites was briefly “hijacked” and routed through Chinese servers earlier this year, a report to the US Congress said Wednesday. For 18 minutes on April 8, a Chinese state-owned telecommunications firm rerouted email traffic to and from websites of the US Senate, the Department of Defense, along with “many others” including NASA and Department of Commerce, said the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report.

In summary, Friedman promotes a false picture of China to bash America, and one wonders where he is getting his facts.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes on human rights in Africa at Makaipablog.


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