Title: Death by China
Director: Peter Navarro
An alarmist nonfiction film in the mode of the Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” or debt-busting docs “I Want Your Money” and “I.O.U.S.A.,” director Peter Navarro’s “Death by China” targets what it deems the most urgent problem facing America today — our country’s increasingly destructive economic trade relationship with a rapidly rising China. There’s an impassioned level of energy here, and certainly the weight and force of much educated opinion. But like a teenager whose emotionality trumps their ability to rationally and cogently articulate an argument, “Death by China” is a bit too manic, scattershot and overheated to impart its case with surgical precision. It feels, by God, but it also overwhelms.
When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 — after having their entrance lobbied for by both President Bill Clinton and prominent members of the Republican-controlled Congress as well, like former Speakers of the House Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay — it was viewed by many as it was sold: as a level-playing-field market opening for American businesses to what amounts to basically one-fifth of the world’s population. Of course, that sunny scenario required China to play by fair rules, instead of working to subvert American companies through currency manipulation, intellectual piracy and a tsunami of cheaply produced products courtesy of human rights abuses and forced labor prison camps. In retrospect, the United States’ more-carrot-than-stick approach seems incredibly naïve and wrongheaded.
Narrated by Martin Sheen, and based on Navarro and Greg Autry’s book of the same name, “Death by China” makes, by its conclusion, a fairly convincing case that a good portion of America’s 50,000 shuttered and disappeared companies over the past decade-plus (many in the manufacturing sector) and much of its three trillion dollar debt to China can be blamed on a willful and crooked gaming of the system by China’s communist government, who has taken economic advantage of illegal subsidies and the world’s most degraded environment to achieve cost advantages that outstrip baseline profitability in various industries. Of course, the notion that China would play hardball to achieve its own economic objectives shouldn’t be wildly surprising.
But Navarro’s hammy, feverish directorial flourishes, of which there are many (export subsidies are represented by animated bombs ripping apart an American map) do much to undercut the intellectual balance of his film’s case, as does his jumpy editing. The parade of interviewees — including AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, “Forbes” columnist Gordon Chang, “Newsweek” columnist Robert Samuels, and various Congressmen and other government officials — lends credence and credibility to “Death by China”‘s anxious claims. But the movie skips around and alights on some crazy divergences (wait… China engages in government-sanctioned organ harvesting?) instead of also more fully rooting down into American sociopolitical complicity in the creation and sustenance of a culture that extols profit over middle-class jobs.
NOTE: “Death By China” opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, where director Peter Navarro will appear for Q&As on both Friday and Saturday evenings. For more information on the film, visit www.DeathByChinaMovie.com.
Written by: Brent Simon