Indulge me a quick personal story. Twice now, I’ve been duped by Facebook ads into ordering American-looking products (furniture polish and a blouse) that I later discovered came from China.
The packages arrived months late with return addresses written in Chinese that were indecipherable and unreturnable. The blouse was doll-sized with two different sleeve lengths. Instead of furniture polish, the crushed, toothpaste-sized box I received contained spackling compound with a pointed applicator.
I’m annoyed with Facebook for failing to disclose where their advertised products come from. I am angrier with the Chinese manufacturers who tricked me — twice. Shame on me if I fall for that again.
This lesson strikes me as a metaphor for the long-standing relationship between the United States and China. Time after time, the Chinese have taken advantage, deceived and outright stolen from us. Our government response has been wishy-washy.
Chinese duplicity goes way back. Foreign policy experts figure that the Chinese theft of intellectual property from Americans costs the United States between $225 billion and $600 billion a year. The Chinese have long hacked into U.S. computers, stolen software and trade secrets, and illegally infringed on patents. For years, they have counterfeited American goods and sold them around the world — including right back here in the United States. If an American citizen had employed similar tactics, he or she would have risked a long prison term.
The Chinese have also long practiced unfair trade tactics by forcing their grossly underpaid citizens to produce products that other countries could never duplicate without resorting to slave labor. They have slapped exorbitant tariffs on U.S. goods headed into China, thus putting a chokehold on American companies hoping to tap into the massive Chinese market.
Now the United States is forced to kowtow to this predatory empire for sorely needed medical assistance as we struggle through the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic — which came from their country. This is now the third pandemic/epidemic to have originated in China. Both the 1957 Asian flu and the 1968 Hong Kong flu started in China and together claimed about 3 million deaths worldwide. The milder 2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, was also traced to China.
Now there’s COVID-19.
It is clear we have allowed our country to become overly reliant on Chinese goods and services, and now the very health of America is at stake.
Realize that China controls production of a massive amount of the world’s medicines, medicinal compounds, and medical supplies and equipment. For example, 90 percent of our antibiotics, vitamin C, ibuprofen and hydrocortisone is manufactured in China. About 70 percent of acetaminophen and about 45 percent of the blood thinner heparin come from China. About half of the safety masks made in the world come from China.
If we push the regime too hard on their hacking of U.S. trade secrets, if we harshly question them on their illogically low COVID-19 death rate or condemn them for currently hoarding face masks, we risk the possibility of serious Chinese retribution.
What if China, in a fit of parochial pique, decides to send us shoddy pharmaceuticals or medical equipment — or none at all?
There was a glimmer of hope that relations might begin to even out last fall when President Donald Trump optimistically told American farmers to buy more tractors and land because China had agreed to spend $40 billion a year on American agriculture products. However, recent estimates from Washington report that China is not on track to buy that much. The current total of agriculture sales to Beijing is more like $14 billion. Duped again?
In this globalized economy, we cannot afford to write off relations with China. But I’ve learned my lesson. No more ordering from Facebook ads lest they be from a Chinese company. And I will try my best to buy nothing marked “made in China.”
China is not our friend. They unapologetically operate by a completely different standard of conduct. The fact that we have allowed ourselves to become so subservient to them — in business, in technology, in medicine — and allowed so many U.S. manufacturing jobs to ebb away to China is maddening.
We are paying for it now. We will continue to pay for it in the future unless drastic changes are made.
— Diane Dimond is the author of three books, including Be Careful Who You Love Inside the Michael Jackson Case, which is now updated with new chapters and is available as an audiobook. Contact her at email@example.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.