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March 1, 2003

4 Min Read
Editorial: China?s turn

MSnyder.jpgFollowing Mexico and earlier Japan, it is China?s turn to come under the harsh glare of the spotlight of the American business community. Everywhere one turns in the international and national business press, there are reports of developments in Chinese manufacturing and finance. Some of the ink devoted to China is informative and analytical, some of it is complaining, and some of it predicts the end of American manufacturing as we know it. All of it is right in at least one respect. Today?s China is not the same China we knew 25 years ago.

Nor do we see it in the same way. Peking, the capital city, we now write as Beijing, though menus still list Peking Duck. I grew up hearing about Mao Tse-Tung. The deceased leader is now referred to as Mao Zedong. And so on.

Let?s look back for a moment to times when Mexico and Japan were in the spotlight. Former presidential candidate Ross Perot famously predicted that a ?giant sucking sound,? representing jobs moving to Mexico from the U.S., would result from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some jobs went south, especially to the maquiladora facilities, but I haven?t heard anyone say it wrecked American manufacturing. Now, ironically, Mexicans are complaining, perhaps with justification in some cases, that their jobs are being taken away by the Chinese.

As for Japan, it once seemed impossible to buy anything in certain sectors, such as electronics, that was not ?Made in Japan.? For a while it seemed that Japan, which the Allies bombed into submission in World War II, was going to have the last laugh, rebuilding its economy at the expense of ours. Well, our economy might not be quite what one would hope right now, but Japan?s economy is burdened by a patently archaic banking system.But let?s return to consideration of China. What do we as individuals know about the country? Unfortunately, not very much. I can speak for myself, but I think I have a lot of company. Before I make judgment calls about plastics processors doing business in China, I want to learn a lot more than I know now.

I have not been to China, but I appreciate the indirect ties I?ve had. For one, the president of my alma mater, prior to his distinguished academic career, spent time as a volunteer piloting twin-propeller Douglas DC-3s across the dangerous ?hump? of the Himalayas from India into China, ferrying in relief supplies for the post-WWII starving Chinese populace.

He subsequently established an undergraduate international study program with China. Just recently I have been privileged to read e-mails from a student reporting her experience in China while participating in that program. They were forwarded by her parents, who are friends here in Denver. I also have friends who were teachers in China and a few who have gone as tourists.

As for my indirect connections to China, one can, of course, say, ?so what?? Well, here?s what. Personal ties and other acquired information are important. We should become as well informed as we can about China, as we are going to be dealing with it for the foreseeable future. It?s not going away.

It serves no good purpose to rashly condemn China. We also cannot ignore a country of 1.3 billion inhabitants that has decided to live in a dichotomy of Communist ideology on one hand and world-class capitalism on the other. Since the ?economic reforms? of 1978, China has been positioning itself to be a world economic power in addition to being a country characterized by millions of rice-growing peasants.

The history of China is complex. It is to me, anyway. I?ve been trying to read some of it. For one thing, the recorded history of China started about 4000 years ago.

When should we start learning about China? Yesterday already. Any good bookstore and various Internet sources should take you as far as you want to go. If travel to China becomes an option, by all means take it.

To look at current and planned American plastics processing activity in China, we commend to you our sister publication, Injection Molding Magazine. Start with the January 2003 issue. Between our two magazines, PM&A and IMM, we?ll be doing our part to keep you informed on what?s going on with plastics processing in China.

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Merle R. Snyder
Editor

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