Editorial: We Are All Chinese
In a rapidly transforming global economy in which our domestic political system seems all jammed up, it’s easy for us in North Carolina to retreat into our provincial comfort zones and tune out a world of dizzying complexity.
India, Brazil, Venezuela and Iran are new powers suddenly flexing their economic and political muscle. And yet China seems to loom larger than all of them over our collective imagination and fear. God forbid that at some point we should let national pride corral us into a mutually disastrous military confrontation. And while trade imbalances with China continue to undermine the livelihoods of North Carolina manufacturing workers while fattening the profits of select corporations, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of blaming the Chinese people for trying to eke out a living by playing the cards dealt to them.
Despite Triad corporate annual reports that chronicle a shift of ever more manufacturing capacity to China each year, it would seem that we have few cultural connections with China. So when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck the southwestern province of Sichuan on May 12, unfurling a horrifying scroll of death and displacement, it seemed to prompt few conversations in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem. Even with an official death toll expected to reach 80,000, the reality of post-earthquake China seems distant: a vast population in a remote part of a large country living under communist rule – what do they have to do with us?
If we’ve thought much about China, it might be that RF Micro Devices, Greensboro’s leading-edge technology company, announced earlier this month that it would eliminate 350 jobs globally – including about 200 here – in addition to local layoffs numbering 80 that were made public in April. This bad news comes in the context of a gradual transfer of capacity to China, with the company doubling the size of an internal assembly plant in Beijing a couple years ago. And this promise crops up in RF Micro Device’s latest annual report: “We expect to increase our reliance on our Beijing facility as well as our utilization of contract suppliers and partners in Asia in order to minimize the movement of inventory.”
Triad residents have a right to be bitter, and to push corporate leaders and elected officials for reformed business practices and policy changes, but ill will against the Chinese people would be misdirected.
In many ways, they must be like us.
A sliver of that reality comes from Ramon Colon, a native of Guatemala and Los Angeles, who came to North Carolina for his last year of high school and then relocated to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.
“Please keep the victims of this disaster in your prayers,” Colon wrote in a mass e-mail on May 15 after sheltering on the grounds of a hotel the night after the quake. “In one way or another we have each been deeply affected by the situation, and many of our Chinese friends here in town have been unable to contact friends and relatives and are extremely worried. So far I haven been unable to contact some of my friends in Mianyang and we are waiting each day for the ring of the telephone or the tone of a text message to let us know they are okay.”
Pray. Send money. Recognize in some way that we share a common bond of humanity.
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