Peter Navarro is probably one of the most advertised China-related books this year. For weeks it nailed the small Adsense box on my Inside-out China blog (apparently Google did a good job of matchmaking), and I got so tired of seeing it all day everyday that I deleted Adsense. The book thus made my blog ad-free.
The question is whether it is worth the advertising money or a reader's time.
In all fairness, this book does highlight some extremely difficult problems that are facing not just the United States, but the entire world. Resource, especially energy shortages, environmental degradation, the threat of international conflict and widespread poverty and inequality are very real and very serious issues.
It is strange, though, that Navarro would attribute so much of the cause of these to China, given that all of these issues have been pointed out again and again by many people since the original publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972. Certainly at that time nobody was expecting that China would be what Navarro repeatedly calls "the world’s factory floor."
What is true about China, is that it has been remarkably fast in its track to catch up to the United States. Again, at least since 1972, people have asked the question “what would happen if everyone in the world had the consumption habits of the average American?” Now, with the world’s most populous country about ¼ of the way there, perhaps the answer is clearer, and it is certainly frightening. With India, and other countries in Asia, also getting ready to rocket ahead, stopping China in its tracks, as this book admonishes, even if it were possible, is not a good answer.
The world is faced with some real tough times and some very creative solutions are going to be called for. Telling people in China, or any developing nation, to give up getting rich quickly is much like telling American’s to give up 80% of their wealth. It generates anger and outrage, but doesn't accomplish anything. The book recommends a very serious effort by the United States government to deal with energy and environmental issues. That is laudable advice, but the American centric focus is not productive. The things being talked about above are global in nature and no single country can carve out a solution in isolation. There is a strong need to cooperate and share human and information resources. More importantly, and this will be very difficult indeed, huge investment by developed countries into developing countries may be the only viable solution. Unfortunately, the book does not provide any useful suggestions for progress on these issues.
It has always amazed me that the people who are most critical of China are precisely those that don’t seem to be able to break from the one literary form perfected under Communism. The Coming China Wars, with the exception of the last chapter, reads very much like the official texts I recited as a child during the Cultural Revolution. No tarnish or impurities have been introduced in this Made in America diatribe against the horrors of the red enemy in the east. Chapters open with quotations from, usually, respectable people or publications, then continue on in declarations that are not backed by any evidence. Presumably the quotations were imbedded in writings that did contain evidence, but Navarro dispenses with that.
In keeping with this form, little that is said in The Coming China Wars is explicitly false, it is simply somewhat twisted in its logic. If America does something it is good. If China does something it is bad. It matters little what the thing is, or if it is the same thing. I got a real kick out of the statement: "Whereas the United States focuses on ensuring the security of the international oil market, China has adopted a 'bilateral contracting approach' in which it seeks to lock down the physical supplies of the oil-producing countries." That focus on ensuring security is probably not apparent to most people living outside the United States. And of bilateral agreements, it is best not to forget the Shah of Iran and the response to his ousting that brought Saddam Hussein to the forefront.
If you are going to read the book anyway, you'd be better off skipping the first eleven chapters and going straight to the 12th. After struggling through the text, the last chapter seemed like a breath of fresh air, but it is only in comparison to the rest of the book.
What the last chapter contains is a sequence of policy recommendations that, though rather twisted in their presentation, do have some coherency. To save you a little bit of pain, let me summarize them here:
- Consumers should shy away from products made in China and let retailers and manufacturers know that they are doing this.
- People should pressure government officials to get serious about dealing with issues related to China.
- Businesses should diversify manufacturing away from China and increase quality control on products made in China.
- As a nation the United States should learn to live within its means which means not running a trade or budget deficit.
- The federal government should
- Push for strict adherence to the principles of free trade.
- Pass laws making currency manipulation strictly illegal.
- Prosecute to the full extent of the law anyone involved in piracy or counterfeiting and closely monitor internet sales of pharmaceuticals.
- Increase the inspection of foods and pass laws to increase accountability for any tainted products.
- Undertake a massive program to remove the dependence of the US on foreign energy supplies.
- Condemn China for its abuse of veto power on the UN Security Council, then remove China as a permanent member of that body.
- Increase spending on programs such as the Voice of America and do more diplomatic work abroad.
- Agree to strict carbon controls and impose a corresponding carbon tax on all products regardless of country of origin.
- Prohibit US companies from working with Chinese authorities to identify internet users.
- Pay more attention to Taiwan and pressure China to decrease its nuclear arsenal.
- Increase the budget spent on counter espionage.
- Increase NASA’s budget and focus funding on private space ventures.
I have, of course, saved the best policy recommendation for last. This actually falls under the heading of what voters should do and it is:
- "Help spread the word! Give your copy of The Coming China Wars to a friend, or donate your copy to your local library."