Say It Ain't So: Is PRC Advertising on NBC?

Just weeks after the Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo became the world's sole imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate in December 2010, the Chinese leadership began an assault against government critics. Since February 16, 2011, dozens of lawyers, civil society activists, and bloggers have been detained on criminal charges by state authorities, while at least 20 others have been the victims of enforced disappearance. Between 100 and 200 other people have been subjected to an array of repressive measures, ranging from police summonses to house arrests. The government has also tightened internet censorship, forced several liberal newspaper editors to step down, and imposed new restrictions on foreign media reporting in Beijing.

"China: Tiananmen Resonates in New Crackdown," Human Rights Watch

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There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man ... a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.

--Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone

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How to explain the eerie feeling that's come over me today? I've been recovering from the flu (Don caught it with a vengeance last week and passed it to me), but that's not what's causing this off-kilter, Twilight Zone-like sensation. I fear that we're entering another dimension. One where our country isn't quite itself. Cue creepy music.

So here's what happened: I'm reading various newspapers, only half-watching Nate Berkus as he explains how to frame family photos. Nate goes to commercial. I hear a voice say "Shenzhen, China's Silicon Valley." I look up at the screen and see INTERNATIONAL INNOVATORS (and yes, the words are all in caps, set against a bright red background). The pleasant voice is going on and on about what a great place Shenzhen is, and how it's nirvana for businesses that want to set up shop there, and how everyone should jump on the next plane and move there. Ok, I guess the faceless voice doesn't say those exact words; but the implication is clear: Shenzhen is up and coming, baby. Check it out.

Let me first fill in the backdrop for this Twilight Zone moment. I'm already borderline-queasy this morning as I catch up on news. It doesn't help that at every click of the mouse or turn of the page I bump into China. Here are a few choice tidbits:

News item (July 12, 2011), The Wall Street Journal: "Where Have America's Jobs Gone?" China didn't actually appear anywhere in this piece. I thought for sure the title indicated it would be about outsourcing everything, including the kitchen sink, to China. But no, it was about how businesses in America are scaling back on hiring--other than McDonald's Corporation, home of the Big Mac, which seems to be America's one shining beacon of employment hope, adding 62,000 new jobs. But to me, trying to make sense of this news piece, the giant ignored panda in the room--swiping at manufacturing, engineering, and every other American job you can think of--is China.

News item (July 12, 2011), CNBC: "China Beats Slowdown Fears, Further Tightening Expected." This item explains that China's GDP grew 9.5 percent, "stronger than expected…giving Beijing more confidence to tighten monetary policy further to tame stubbornly high inflation." Whew. So relieved for you, China. By the way, some estimates put U.S.A.'s current GDP growth at 2.94%. But we're fine, really.

News item (July 12, 2011), Reuters: "China secures first top-level post at IMF." Here's the big story: "China secured its first top-level management post in the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, in a move that recognizes Beijing's growing clout in the global economy. New IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde named Chinese economist Min Zhu, a former deputy governor of the People's Bank of China and a special adviser to the fund, to a newly-created deputy managing director post." Um, okay. Let's get those pom-poms out. Go, Min Zhu, go.

News item (July 12, 2011), Associated Press: "Chinese firm finishes key piece of Bay Bridge." Most striking here is the photo with this caption: "Confetti fills the air [in Shanghai] Monday as workers celebrate the completion of the elements for the new east span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge." The piece goes on to remind us that California's Department of Transportation chose Shanghai Zenhua Heavy Industries to "fabricate the steel girders and tower" for the Bay Bridge. The Chinese company is "hoping the project will seal its reputation as a top-notch builder able to meet the most stringent safety and quality regulations." Fingers crossed. Don and I drive back and forth across that bridge all the time. We'd prefer it didn't fall apart. But beyond that: How can we let these projects get outsourced to China? Oh, never mind. Go, China, go.

News item (July 9-10, 2011), The Wall Street Journal: "Worries Grow Over Jobs: Stocks Drop as Unemployment Rate Climbs to 9.2%; Private-Sector Hiring Sags." Basically, so few jobs are being added that it's downright alarming. "Hiring was tepid across most industries." Hmm, now where oh where are those jobs going…? It's such a mystery. Did anyone else see a giant panda lope across the fruited plain, millions of jobs in its furry fist?

News item (July 11, 2011), The Wall Street Journal: "China Boosts Lead in Global Exports." Ah, come on. You had to know this one without reading it in the papers. But just in case you're wondering. Here's more: "The latest evidence of China's [manufacturing] prowess came Sunday, when it reported that exports hit $162 billion in June and $864 billion in the first half of the year, both records, up nearly 20% from the year earlier periods…China's closely watched trade surplus widened to more than $22 billion in June, from $13 billion in May, indicating a lack of progress toward the Group of 20 nations' goal of rebalancing global growth." In other words (with apologies to Thomas Friedman) it's as if the world is flat, tilting ever more eastward. Hold on, everyone, or we'll slide to the other side of the globe.

News item (July 11, 2011), The Washington Post: "China says US is spending too much on its military amid its financial woes." Here one pictures a parent chastising the adolescent child. You used up all your allowance on video games? No more gas money for you, kid. From this article:

The chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, Chen Bingde, told reporters he thought the U.S. should cut back on defense spending for the sake of its taxpayers. He was speaking during a joint news conference in which he traded barbs with visiting U.S. counterpart Adm. Mike Mullen. 'I know the U.S. is still recovering from the financial crisis,' Chen said. 'Under such circumstances, it is still spending a lot of money on its military and isn’t that placing too much pressure on the taxpayers? If the U.S. could reduce its military spending a bit and spend more on improving the livelihood of the American people ... wouldn’t that be a better scenario?' he said.

Thanks for your concern, General Chen, but how 'bout you leave America's military alone? And how about we ask every single U.S.-owned company / corporation currently doing business in your vast, communist-ruled backyard to head back home? And here's another thought: How about you tend to the basic human rights of your own repressed people? We're not perfect, but we could help you out with that. Give you a tutorial. Sign you up for a night school course in American Civics.

So the news items above are dancing in my head when an NBC-produced commercial for INTERNATIONAL INNOVATORS pops up on my television screen. My kitchen table strewn with newspapers, my laptop open, my bottle of Pepto Bismol half-empty, its cap crusted with pink residue, I wonder: What the…? Are they talking about the same Shenzhen, China, where, just a few months ago, 16 Foxconn factory workers--one by one over the course of a few weeks--leapt from high rise dormitory windows to their deaths? Why is that same Shenzhen, with the financial backing of the PRC (People's Republic of China), now advertising on my local station? Is this all my overactive imagination? Or is it simply another example of business as usual in the dimension known as globalization?

Hope to find out soon.