If President Donald J. Trump’s tweets about China were animated it may look like a 3-D panning view of a red, white, and blue flag in the shape of the continental United States topping to the ground lying helplessly before a serrated knife stabs America’s heartland — blood spurting out from the blade labeled “made in China”. Death by China, directed by Peter K. Navarro, a 67-year-old professor with a Ph.D from Harvard, has influenced Trump’s understanding calling “Death by China is right on.” Navarro who is the head of the White House National Trade Council, hired by Jared Kushner after finding his book on Amazon, paints the Chinese and US trade relationship in apocalyptic terms. The novel depicts China’s trade practices as guns and bombs that blow up American factories. He considers trade with China a “zero-sum sum game” where a country can gain through only the loss of another country and urges that China is the majority source of America’s problems through stunningly deceptive moments such as stating “we owe 3 trillion dollars to the world’s largest communist nation” with ‘trade deficit’ caved into a ball. However, our trade deficit is not what we owe to China but merely how much less we export to them. The AV Club compared the novel to “a raving street-corner derelict” because the rhetoric displayed regularly derails into propaganda. Nevertheless, Death by China does get some things in the US-Sino trade relationship right: China deliberately depresses its currency, violate intellectual property rights, and arguably skirt World Trade Organization rules.
Death by China explores the U.S China trade relationship after China joined the WTO in 2001 which was sponsored by American firms and President Clinton who declared will bring “peace and security for Asia” and more jobs. In reality, it caused a trade imbalance where multinational corporations have set up shop overseas devastated 57,000 jobs at the same time China flooded U.S markets with cheap goods in return for dollars — virtually America’s only export — while “the largest communist nation” grew their military and economy.
The novel hooks the audience through grotesque visuals of American consumerism at its peak: Black Friday — where everything purchased was “made in China.” He fills it with rapid cuts in a succession of people dismissing where the purchased product came from: “if the American people can’t provide it ill get it from China, don’t hate me.” Navarro’s novel then fills the screen with stark numbers while listing the effect China has had on America since 2001 such as the disappearance of blue and white-collar jobs; how America’s manufacturing base is nearing extinction; how China progressively owns more American debt. This has resulted in the death of small business, “the backbone of America,” expanding trade deficit, and the end of consumer electronics manufacturing. The novel quickly turns and answers the question of how China was able to damage the U.S before the ink dried on the WTO. China’s strategy included pirating intellectual property, currency manipulation, and illegal export subsidies which has allowed Chinese companies to produce goods at a lower cost: less R&D cost and an effective tariff of U.S goods through currency manipulation. For instance, China hacked Google simply to allow Baidu to copy Google’s source code. These rules have only expanded America’s trade deficit with China. The U.S. created a nightmare where companies like Boeing knowingly give up intellectual property effectively lose any competitive edge in the future by teaching China how to compete with the U.S to gain Chinese market share.
The novel also illustrates the devastating effect of China’s human rights and environmental abuse such as lack of safety regulations, child labor laws, no OSHA like laws, and labor camps. The resultant is China can produce goods a 10th it cost in the U.S by paying less in regulation cost in labor and the environment that are both comparable to U.S regulation in “1910.” This has created cancer villages through heavy metal poisoning while Chinese companies benefit from a 5% margin boost. These incentives in China has allowed Chinese steel, that cost more to make in China, to be cheaper than American steel. Chinese pollution also travels in the U.S through the gulf stream; air that meets 1% of EU air quality measures. Concurrently, China attacks its population, Falun Gong and Tibet, while intimating neighbors, in the South China Sea, by growing its military. China has even invested in America’s enemies militarily and aided their nuclear proliferation programs: North Korea and Pakistan. As the novel states, it appears “China is the only major nation ready to kill Americans.”
The novel devolves into “Who’s to Blame” and what could be done. Partially the U.S government is at fault though lobbyist from multinational greed and self-interest that has led to unrestricted imports and outsourcing of labor. He traces back arguments policymakers offered in 2001 to then juxtaposes them showing how few benefits materialized. China agreed, as part of its induction into the WTO, to end currency manipulation, illegal export subsidies, and labor abuse, but none of this has happened. Instead, they flooded the market with dangerous products such as toys with lead paint. Navarro replayed recordings of comedians taking shots at U.S debt and brings up the question “Who owns America?” He finds members in both political parties that ultimately agree the U.S, may not recognize it, is in a losing trade war. The subsidies China created has reduced the cost for corporations to move to China despite knowing companies will be hacked, subject to counterfeiting and anti-competition practices. The novel concludes Chinese entry into the WTO was an enormous mistake.
The novel discussed at length the role of multinational corporations had and how they have changed over the past two decades to shareowner value only–profits before people. This is the root of the problem, and big businesses are interested in profit against morals while the government has people’s interests but, small businesses, lack the political clout to compete with the multinationals. In addition, many American companies hold a thinly veiled American brand that is no longer related to American allegiance or workers: Coca-Cola. The National Association of Manufacturers has continuously supported the minority multinationals such as lobbying against Ryan-Murphy Chinese Currency Bill despite support from the majority small businesses they pay the majority of the organization’s dues. The big businesses benefited from currency manipulation while Small domestic manufacturers cannot complete as they are effectively “competing with the Chinese government.”
To solve the problem, the novel states the obvious that the U.S. needs a manufacturing base to grow economically and implement trade reform. They call on the viewers to demand action; boycott Chinese goods; call their politicians to end policies that benefit the rich and multinationals. They justify that this is the only way to increase net export and the economy and thus create jobs. The novel reiterates this through stop captions at the end that state we must hold U.S. politicians accountable to American workers and to their responsibility to end the import of deadly cheap products, indirectly encouraging human right abuses, and supporting a communist nation that uses profits we have basically ceded to them since 2001. The novel ends with an assumption this is the only solution to counter China’s military and economy that has crippled the American Dream.
The novel does contain legitimate concerns, which Navarro supports with testimony from economists, politicians, and business people who all state the same thing. Without a manufacturing base, the U.S economy growth has slowed because of jobs because have moved to China including white-collar workers. Economist compared the U.S to the U.S.S.R when they could produce rockets but not bread; the U.S can produce jets but not shoes. The novel directly states Americans aren’t aware goods made in China, 91% of goods in Walmart are Chinese, not only are they hurting the American economy, but aid a dynasty that violates human rights, build China’s military, and creates pollution. However, the gruesome graphics that accompany every point becomes mind-numbing and eventually furthers the impression of agitprop. Overall, it is clear why Trump selected Navarro as a consultant: they share pessimistic views toward China.