I love how Tom Friedman in the NYTimes lectures his US readers on “how the Chinese see us” by relating a skit on China’s government owned TV station where children were taught to ridicule the US:

China’s CCTV aired a skit showing four children… getting ready to run a race. Before they take off, the American child, “Anthony,” boasts that he will win “because I always win,” and he jumps out to a big lead. But soon Anthony doubles over with cramps. … “What’s wrong with Anthony?” asks another. “He is overweight and flabby,” says another child. “He ate too many hamburgers.”

Uh, this is not not how the “Chinese” see us, this is government propaganda telling the Chinese how to see the US.

This isn’t new. I am old enough to remember when the Chinese regularly put on skits relating madeup evil American war atrocities, stories picked up by the left and by prominent academics such as “the man who loved China“, and their calumnies spread all over the globe.

And I’m old enough to remember news stories about the great increases in growing crops, and the great increase in steel output thanks to Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”.

What was missing? Only about 45 million Chinese, killed or starved during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”.

Let us separate propaganda from reality.

So when Friedman sees all those impressive buildings, he sees an economic miracle. Fair enough. But does he have an engineer inspect them for safety? Remember the large number of schools that collapsed during the  2008 earthquake in Sichuan, killing thousands of children? That was a result of shoddy construction, mainly due to corruption.

So yes, I am happy that economic reforms are allowing China to come out of poverty.

But let’s not mistake the television propaganda and the Potemkin villages of a small area of SE China for the entire country.

China is undoubtedly a growing power, but what Friedman is not noticing is most worrisome for those of us who live outside the US: that China’s economic policies-are essentially neocolonialist. By keeping the Yuan’s value artificially low, and by giving government subsidies to their goods, they are waging a price war against emerging markets in Africa and SEAsia.

By flooding the markets with their under-priced goods, thanks to the underpriced Yuan, local businesses here in the Philippines can’t compete. So local businesses either can’t be started or go bankrupt.

Is this good or bad? Both. I have no problem with free trade per se. But China’s manipulation of the Yuan means that they are not playing fairly.

And President Obama is trying to pressure China to reform the problem.

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Monday that China has not done enough to raise the value of the yuan, keeping up tough American rhetoric on Chinese policy as U.S. lawmakers weigh new legislation to punish Beijing….

The yuan “is valued lower than market conditions would say it should be,” Obama said, giving China an advantage in trade because it makes Chinese goods less expensive in the United States and U.S. goods more expensive in China. [ID:nN20275380]

“What we’ve said to them is you need to let your currency rise in accordance to the fact that your economy’s rising, you’re getting wealthier, you’re exporting a lot, there should be an adjustment there based on market conditions,” Obama said at a town-hall style meeting hosted by CNBC television.

To the President’s credit, he is allowing the Congress to consider passing protective legislation to counterbalance these unfair trade practices.

China’s economic miracle is based not only on their questionable currency manipulation, but on bad labor practices (underpaying workers, forbidding strikes), and (alas) often the export of shoddily made or even counterfeit goods due to a large amount of corruption at all levels of their society.

We here in the Philippines are aware of this, because we have to worry about buying products from China, because a lot of them are poorly made and break shortly after being bought. Sometimes the goods are even dangerous, such as melamine in our milk or the cheap generic medicines that don’t work. And we also know about the large bribes by China to certain politicians to allow them to steal our natural resources.

So one longs for a real report on the Chinese economic miracle, that sees a more balance picture, instead of a glowing report on what the Chinese government wants Mr. Friedman to see.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes about human rights at MakaipaBlog.

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