(This article also reprinted at Business_China)
A Rare Instance of Bipartisan Agreement
In setting the stage to pitch one’s own value, a political candidate often leverages points of utter disagreement with his or her opponent. However, in a curious turn of events arising from this round of US midterm elections, we see a rare instance of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans on one item – an unspoken agreement to point a finger at China for its purported detrimental effects on the US.
Among the hottest issues on the midterm debate podium are a faltering US economy and a severely depressed job market. With China’s recent rise as the world’s second largest economy, it’s understood that the Middle Kingdom deeply influences many countries across the globe. With a prominent and steadily growing profile, China emerges as the convenient new bogeyman for America’s many ills.
Political ads plastering America’s prime-time television paint a decidedly dark portrait of China. Some ads show stark black-and-white video clips depicting US factories and other businesses closed down due to outsourcing to China. Other ads found on YouTube depict fleeting images of China’s red flag and Chairman Mao Zedong accompanied by a backdrop of giddy Asian-style music.
“…too sympathetic to China…”
Casting China into a dark corner isn’t exclusive to just one candidate. According to a recent report by the New York Times, at least 29 candidates across the US are airing ads “…suggesting that their opponents have been too sympathetic to China…”
Likewise, stoking the China issue is a mutually bipartisan effort. Both Democrats and Republicans blame one another for allowing the export of US jobs to China. On the one hand, an ad endorsed by Democratic majority leader Harry Reid spins his opponent, Republican Sharron Angle, as “a foreign worker’s best friend.” On the other hand, Republican Congressman and House minority leader John Boehner accuses both President Obama and Democratic House majority leader Nancy Pelosi of supporting “stimulus that shipped jobs overseas to China…”
Scapegoating: A Time-Proven Technique
To put things into perspective, identifying a scapegoat and performing the subsequent bashing has been common practice throughout the ages. In recent American history, more prominent subjects of strong political rhetoric include the former cold war-era USSR, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Vietcong) that fought the US during the Vietnam War, and – further back – the Axis powers of World War II.
Whether applied at a smaller scale between individual political opponents, or as a strategy to garner the support of an entire nation of citizens, the intent is one and the same: to evoke an emotional response and elicit a call to collective action. Right or wrong, justified or unwarranted, this is one use of political rhetoric. The distinguishing topic of discussion at this time is China.
Why Blame China?
In recognizing such rhetoric for what it is, one cannot help but ask: “Why blame China?”
University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs offers this explanation: “Candidates are looking to speak in a visceral way to the fears and concerns of voters about jobs. Bashing China is safe.”
USBC: US Job Losses Due to China “Built On…Faulty Assumption”
While political marketing strategists spin China as a main cause for job losses in the US, at least one other US-affiliated entity begs to differ on this point altogether.
The US-China Business Council (USCBC) claims a study released March 23, 2010, by The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) blames widespread US job losses as a result of trade with China is an abjectly flawed analysis and further distracts from the real issues facing the US economy and the USA’s trade relations with China.
USCBC’s president John Frisbie states, “The Economic Policy Institute’s latest study, ‘Unfair China Trade Costs Local Jobs’ is once again built on the faulty assumption that every product imported from China would have been made in the US otherwise. As I said two years ago, this assumption is clearly wrong – several decades wrong, in fact.” said John Frisbie, USCBC’s president.
“Think about the television in your home. The label on the back probably says ‘Made in China.’ Fifteen years ago the label likely would have said ‘Made in Japan’–but it was still an import.” “Much of what we import from China replaces imports from other countries, not products we make in the US today. A jobs impact study that ignores the facts undermines its own credibility.”
US Manufacturing Jobs: On the Decline for Four Decades
According to the most recent data available (based on 2008 information), the United States was the world’s largest manufacturer. Conversely, US manufacturing jobs have steadily declined over the past four decades, long before China arrived on the global manufacturing arena.
Says Frisbie, “The main reason for the decline in manufacturing jobs is productivity, not China. The US makes more with fewer people, primarily because of productivity and technology advances.”
“While a number of US workers do lose their jobs to lower-cost imports, US policymakers must work to ensure displaced workers have to the proper training and other resources available for a transition to new careers in other sectors of the economy.”
“The key is to make sure our companies and workers stay competitive and remain global leaders in manufacturing–and that means sensible innovation, education, tax, healthcare, and energy policies. The answer is not to build walls around the US to isolate ourselves from our growing export opportunities with China – especially as the US economy continues to emerge from the economic downturn.”