“Death by China” paints a frightening vision of an evil, totalitarian government aiming weapons of economic destruction at the U.S. while massively building up its military capability. One need not fully subscribe to Peter Navarro’s demonization to appreciate his lucid wake-up call to the imminent dangers of the huge U.S.-China trade imbalance and its disastrous impact on the American economy. Mixing colorful, attention-grabbing graphics and rapid-fire interviews with a wide swath of politicos, economists, academics, dissidents, labor leaders and CEOs, this bullet-point docu could have significant impact, particularly with smallscreen auds.
Navarro critiques the American decision to allow China into the World Trade Organization, blaming Democrats and Republicans equally. Stressing that the goal of WTO inclusion was to open up China to American exports, Navarro argues that, instead, China immediately began subverting the letter and spirit of fair trade through illegal export subsidies and currency manipulation, effectively flooding the U.S. markets with often-toxic goods while making it virtually impossible for American products to compete in China.
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The docu asserts that the Chinese government encouraged counterfeiting and piracy, not only of Disney DVDs but of high-end American technology. Furthermore, the filmmaker notes, China cut production costs by ignoring global standards of workplace safety, labor practices and pollution control.
But, as Navarro and his experts are quick to point out, China could not have succeeded without the collusion and active participation of multinationals like G.E., Caterpillar, Boeing and Apple, conglomerates willing to trade decent jobs and long-term homeland stability for quick profits by moving their businesses overseas and pouring billions into the political system to guarantee the status quo. Once the big boys relocated, the smaller companies had no choice but to close down or ship out.
As a result, more than 50,000 U.S. factories have disappeared (and with them, the small businesses and services they supported), and millions of Americans cannot find decent-paying jobs. And without a manufacturing base, research and development tends to stagnate or simply move overseas, there to be copied or co-opted.
The director alternates hard-hitting, articulate soundbites with more relaxed, down-home testimony. Navarro has chosen his talking heads wisely, and they represent a wide spectrum of interests and perspectives. But many of his most cogent points, narrated by Martin Sheen, are couched in flamboyant rhetoric and illustrated by overly simplistic graphics depicting big guns firing at the U.S. or bombs falling from above. One can readily understand the docu’s sense of urgency, while wishing its bells and whistles did not sound so much like the anti-Soviet propaganda of yesteryear.