Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The New China Baiting

I have been planning to write something on this point for a while and this is just an opening stab at what I think is an important new theme in capitalist mass ideology in the U.S., that is making contemporary China into a scapegoat for the abuses of capitalism. We should remember that the "Red China" of the 1950s through 1970s was portrayed as a nation of Communist fanatics chanting slogans from "Chairman Mao" as they sought to foment world revolution, conquer Asia and, with possible help from their Soviet "allies" (who remained part of what mass media liked to refer to as the "Sino-Soviet world communist conspiracy long after the Soviet Union and China ceased being allies) reach the continental United States. Today, China is portrayed as a hostile foreign power selling tainted goods to the United States.

I thought of those stereotypes (the old ones, which aren't entirely dead) when I watched the opening episode of the CBS FBI series Numbers, a usually well-written program which combines action adventure with math lessons (a mathematics professor better than any that I ever had anywhere series as an FBI consultant, using math theorems and logic to aid his FBI agent brother and the brothers associates in fighting terrorists and other assorted criminals) In this episode, though, the evil doer was a high placed government official who was literally a Chinese mole (played, unintentionally, I suspect, in a very 1950s camp way by the star actor Val Kilmer) who, we find out as he is directing the torture of a good guy (the Chinese also here become the scapegoat for torturing prisoners) was born and raised in Peking (I will use that spelling because it fits the mentality of the episode) before coming to the U.S. going to university, and infiltrating the U.S. government.

Before visions of smart but ruthless Chinese who look very much like Europeans winning awards in U.S. universities before they infiltrate the U.S. government to subvert it for their leaders in Peking shake you up too much, you should know that the the Chinese mole and his thuggish Asian henchmen are defeated decisively and this blast from the 1950s past concludes with an FBI happy ending. That these themes would pervade a major network series in 2007 is of course very interesting.

Meanwhile, after decades of U.S. government undermining of environmental protections, consumer legislation, and systematic weakening and under-enforcement of existing pure food and drug laws, China, which is to today both an enormous mixed economy and exporter of a wide variety of finished goods to the world, as against the "China market" and exporter of raw materials that imperialists dreamed it would become before the Chinese Communist led revolution, is being denounced for selling tainted goods, counterfeit drugs, everything imaginable due to a lack of regulation and of course greedy businessmen (whether these businessmen are Chinese are foreign capitalists is usually not mentioned and, in fact the word capitalist itself really isn't mentioned).

A typical example of this new propaganda trend could be seen in the last two days in the New York Times. First there was a flurry of stories about the Consumer Product Safety Commission and its very old fashioned anti-regulation chair, Nancy Nord(Calvin Coolidge used to appoint such people to the Federal Trade Commission, that is, regulators who made it clear that they would regulate as little as possible as a matter of principle, although they were always of a different gender than Nord). The Democrats are trying to pass a law which will increase the budget and the scope of the Commission, which has seen major staff reductions. Nord is opposing the legislation, as a good McKinley-Coolidge-Reagan-Bush Republican would.

The legislation, which is very positive, would greatly increase fines and other penalties on corporate felons, give safety certification of goods over to independent laboratories (something that manufacturers have agreed to, but Nord, again in the Coolidge tradition, opposes, willing to give to the corporations even more than they are asking) . The legislation would also double the budget of the agency and increase the number of its inspectors, which have dropped by more than half in recent decades (as the quantity and variety of consumer goods introduced into the U.S. marketplace has increased enormously) . Today the agency has an estimated 420 inspectors for the whole country.

hat does this have to do with China. The Democrats are calling for Nord to resign, using the agency's failure to properly handle lead contaminated toys imported from China. Today as the battle between Nord and the Democrats rages in the press, the New York Times has a very long story about the import of dangerous drugs and other chemicals from Chinese firms not regulated by the Chinese government (it is careful to say that this is not necessarily indicative of Chinese companies, but the headline, "Chinese Chemicals flow unchecked to Market," references to China as the world's leading supplier of counterfeit drugs (given the size of its developing economy it is fast becoming the world's leading supplier of everything) has its effect, along with an unsubstantiated commercial for the FDA as making the U.S. drug "supply chain....among the world's safest."

Given the power of the Pharmaceutical industry in the U.S., the general undermining of inspection and regulation since the Reagan era (including the reduction in the number of inspectors) this really doesn't sound too accurate.

The article goes on to highlight the crime and corruption, mentioning in passing a statement from Congressman John Dingell of Michigan that the FDA conducts only about 20 inspections a year in China for the over 700 Chinese firms producing drugs for the American market.

I am not saying that the problem is not significant but it is a capitalist problem, not a Chinese one. The "globalization" and deregulation that is hailed by reactionaries as the wave of the future is the source of the problem. Capitalists will always seek to cut corners, even sell adulterated goods, bribe or beat the regulators while they "fight" to make regulation maximize their own profit margins, which U.S. Pharmaceuticals do by pushing prescription drugs at high prices to the general population in alliance with the insurance companies. I am also saying that the attitude that is being purveyed to the Chinese officials (the New York Times article for example had Times reporters lecturing Chinese regulators on their failure to regulate the raw materials used in drugs in a way that they would never do to U.S. or European officials) smacks of the old colonial arrogance.

China may be a great emerging industrial power today. China may be a creditor that owns a significant portion of the U.S. debt. But China still remains both "Red China," an enemy seeking to subvert American freedom and democracy to many and of course, there remains "Yellow Peril" China, whose people, like the colonial peoples of the world, have to be "civilized" to Euro-American standards while Europe and the U.S. are protected from the dangers that they represent. In the 19th century, Opium Wars were fought against China in the name of progress and civilization.

In the 20th century, international banking consortium's and foreign powers supported Chinese warlords and military dictators and really did very little to stop brutal Japanese militarist invasion and occupation of China until World War II. After WWII, after failing to defeat the Chinese revolution in spite of the substantial military aid it provided to Chiang K'ai-shek's rightwing dictatorship, U.S. government's refused for twenty-two years to permit the Peoples Republic of China to take its seat in the United Nations, supported military provocations launched by Chiang's rump regime on Taiwan (which was now both its military ally and the official China) against the Peoples Republic, sought to block Chinese trade with third parties, and did not establish full diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China until the late 1970s, when it embarked upon its present mixed economy road.

The U.S. ruling class likes to tell the American people that the U.S. has been an impartial benefactor of humanity, a non-imperialist nation. Like many other peoples of the world, the Chinese know different. At a time when Americans in large numbers wear clothes made in China and purchase a wide variety of goods made in China, China baiting of both the old and new type is empty demagoguery, whether it is used by right-wing Republicans or Democrats seeking to attack Republicans, business leaders or labor leaders denouncing the loss of jobs in the U.S. because of Chinese imports. It is a trend that leads only to increased Sino-American conflict in a world where China, frankly is too strong globally to be pushed around this way, made the scapegoat for the abuses of capitalism which they, whatever their failings appear to be trying to address more than many other countries.

Norman Markowitz

1 comment:

glenn said...

There really has been a steady increase in anti-Chinese media over the last couple of years. Not just in Numbers, but China is turning up in more and more network television as a shadowy adversary that the USA must be vigilant against.