Even before checking out The Wall Street Journal this morning, I was going to post an item on some truly weird material quasi-buried in a Financial Times piece from last week. The Journal article, however, showed that it’s become nothing less than vital to spotlight this latest instance of how the media spreads the most whoppingly one-sided information on many U.S.-China-related subjects in the most offhanded ways.
According to FT writers Geoff Dyer and Richard Waters in a September 11 piece on “High-tech diplomacy” between the United States and China, “The American business community once saw itself as almost a go-between in the US-China relationship, an embodiment of the two countries’ intertwined economic fates and a diplomatic actor that was sometimes able to take the edge off political arguments” as well as a “conduit between governments.”
More recently, they observe, the companies have “started to lean more heavily on Washington for support against Chinese policies that seemed designed either to shut them out of large sections of the Chinese market or pressure them to hand over key technologies.” And of course, the article dutifully quotes an “expert” from an American think tank (which happens to be heavily funded by such businesses) sympathetically describing the companies as “being pulled in many directions by both governments in what has become a much more complicated relationship….Most of them do not like being caught in the middle.” Who could help but feel their pain?
These offshoring companies have indeed been hoisted by Beijing on the petard of their longtime claims that expanding trade with China would greatly benefit the U.S. economy, too; that China was moving steadily towards Western business and even legal, and political norms; and that therefore Washington should mainly turn the other cheek in response to any continued economic predation by the Chinese. The firms also undoubtedly told the two FT reporters that they previously saw themselves as valuable diplomatic intermediaries – as is their right. And perhaps some executives actually believed that. It’s true, moreover, that the FT didn’t present these descriptions as fact.
At the same time, because an alternative perspective was completely ignored, what else could a reader not steeped in these subjects conclude? And omissions like this matter, because what Dyer and Waters didn’t mention is all the evidence that American companies operating in China have actually served, and every effectively, as unofficial lobbyists for a Chinese government. Their common interest? Preventing American officials from rocking the boat of bilateral economic relations in order to preserve profits both have reaped at the expense of domestic U.S. producers and their employees – aka the productive core of the American economy. For as the media has ignored ever since China trade issues have been stirring controversy, U.S.-owned firms whose products are made in China for export to the United States benefit every bit as much from Chinese subsidies and protectionism as Chinese-owned companies.
Where the Journal piece comes in is in providing crucial perspective about the growing number and volume of corporate complaints about China’s increasingly brazen protectionism. On top of refusing to support measures that arguably could counter China’s latest moves, the American firms – especially the tech companies – have massively caved to the pressure. As reported by the Journal’s Eva Dou and Don Clark (and as described by RealityChek for months), these companies are doubling down on their longstanding policies of transferring capital and, most important, cutting-edge technology, to Chinese enterprises. The FT referenced these moves, but only briefly, and deep into the second half of the article.
And by the way, if you look at the types of knowhow being provided to China (as I’ve been doing for years), it’s no mystery why it’s become so adept at hacking key U.S. government and private sector computer systems. In other words, reasons abound for viewing the corporations so indulgently portrayed in the FT not only as whiners, but as dangerously two-faced whiners.
No one should want the FT or any other news organization to take sides in this debate. But the media needs to do a much better job remembering that these giant companies already have their own flacks.
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