China-bashing sounds quite familiar

The closing of American factories and the rising trade deficit with China isn’t enough. The latest spate of recalls from Chinese toy factories has led to a new era of “China Bashing.” You may remember that a similar term, “Japan Bashing,” was used in the 1980s. Someone needed to be blamed for the high trade deficit with Japan.

The mud slinging included referring to Japan’s government/business cooperation as an evil government conspiracy. Westerners complained that Japanese markets were “closed.”

The Japanese currency was blamed. Economists raced to revalue the yen, so that Japanese goods would be expensive in the West, thus less desirable.

Once the United States learned that semiconductors and microchips were being sold in the American market below Japanese manufacturing costs, antidumping measures were enacted.

However, don’t companies make a choice between market share and profit share? Why should it be illegal under U.S. laws to try to build a market?

Didn’t Bill Gates give away so much software that he then built the largest software company in the world?

Our Japan bashing culminated when a trade mission went to Japan and demanded open markets from CEOs there. During that meeting, Chrysler Motors CEO Lee Iacocca insisted the Japanese buy more U.S.-made autos. When Toyota’s CEO said U.S. manufacturers wouldn’t put the steering wheel on the correct side for the Japanese drivers (Japanese drive on the left side of the road), Iacocca said, “If you order more, then we’ll make them the way you want them made.” Of course, this made no sense to Japanese automakers, who spent 20 years researching the U.S. car market, and who still spend more than their U.S. competitors in that same research.

We’re now seeing the same arguments used to explain China¹s rise as the world¹s factory.

We’re hearing that the government controls everything. To large extents, this is true. However, the Chinese government is selling off its SOEs (state owned enterprises) rapidly to Western firms.

We’re hearing that the yuan needs revaluation. Critics of China say the Chinese market is closed. (Every market is closed unless you learn how to operate within it.) The China bashers have been fueled by recent news about lead paint (and other toxic poisons) being found in Chinese-made toys, pet food, vitamins and clothing.

There are U.S. consumer goods companies that are putting “China-Free” stickers on their products, to show there are no Chinese materials in the product.
But we need to ask ourselves some tough questions:

Are we really subcontracting to factories abroad, and then just walking away and saying, “Tell us when our shipment is on the boat?” We wouldn’t do that in our own domestic market. U.S. factories are closely scrutinized for health and safety violations, OSHA compliance, contamination, best business practices, fire escape plans and flooding, to name a few areas of interest.

U.S. companies have to spend money to be in compliance with all of these issues. They’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. Going green is something we should have done 50 years ago. Let¹s not forget we sacrificed everything to make more products, cheaper and more commonly available.

So why is it shocking to us to find business practices abroad that we think are less scrupulous than ours? We’re also guilty of sending products that we find unfit to other (usually Third World) markets.

When products expire in stores (foods, baby products, chemicals, drugs) they’re supposed to be removed from shelves and incinerated. We can’t really delude ourselves into thinking that happens 100 percent of the time, especially when those products tend to turn up in Africa, South America and parts of Asia.

The latest quality scandal coming from China creates tremendous opportunities for clever professionals.

Public relations is a very small industry in China. Our large PR firms can and should be selling their services in China. Several of them already do.

Safety consulting will be a growing field. With our factories so highly regulated, every one of them should be in the consulting business. In addition to safety, they also can train Chinese factories about supply chain management, environmental protection products and services, RFID and other package/shipment tracking technologies, and quality control and other statistical testing techniques.

The weak dollar provides commodity export opportunities right now. Chinese are buying items such as wheat, cement and oil. We should be the ones selling it.

The greatest opportunity is to reform our way of thinking. Not all Chinese factories use lead paint, nor do they employ prisoners or children. The sooner we start calling these businesses by name, instead of blanketing them as “China,” the sooner we can fix the problems and appear more market-savvy.