EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

The brisk business of selling China fear in US

Writer: Lin Min  | Editor: Jane Chen  | From:  | Updated: 2019-10-21

U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Peter Navarro was exposed last week as having faked a quote to prove a point on alleged threats posed by China to the U.S. economy.

In his 2011 book “Death by China,” Navarro quoted a China hawk named “Ron Vara” as saying, “Only the Chinese can turn a leather sofa into an acid bath, a baby crib into a lethal weapon and a cellphone battery into heart-piercing shrapnel.”

According to CNN, an academic has discovered that Vara doesn’t exist. Vara is actually Navarro. Ron Vara is even an anagram of Navarro’s last name, according to the academic, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor emeritus of Japanese history at the Australian National University.

Navarro has admitted to inventing the character of Ron Vara, and claimed it was a “whimsical device and pen name,” purely for “entertainment value.”

However, the book was labeled “nonfiction,” and Navarro and co-author Greg Autry had claimed that the book chronicles the threats to America’s economic dominance in the 21st century posed by China, “from currency manipulation and abusive trade policies, to deadly consumer products.” Do readers need entertainment when reading a book on a very serious topic like this? The real reason for inventing a malicious quote is money: Such quotes attract unsuspecting readers and make it a fast seller. Jaw-dropping quotes tend to draw attention and entice readers.

The nonexistent Vara was quoted in at least six of Navarro’s books, including in “The Coming China Wars” from 2008. Morris-Suzuki said as she read through Navarro’s books, Vara expressed increasingly ferocious anti-China views in his works.

Navarro had been painting China as a bogeyman to sell his books as a way to pocket handsome profits, before catapulting himself to politics, serving as Trump’s senior adviser since the 2016 campaign. The longtime China hawk is considered one of the architects of the Trump administration’s trade war with China.

Another prominent China hawk, Steve Bannon, also sells fear of China to the American public as a way to make money. In 2012, Bannon took over the conservative website Breitbart News Network and under his watch, Breitbart made a noticeable shift, tipping farther to the right to publish anti-immigration pieces and inflammatory rhetoric.

After becoming CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, Bannon sharpened Trump’s populist message, selling fear of open borders and worries about China’s alleged threat.

After being kicked out of Trump’s inner circle, Bannon continued to make money by portraying the China bogeyman. In September, he released a new film, “Claws of the Red Dragon,” which blasts out unfounded accusations about telecom giant Huawei’s ties with the CPC and the Chinese military. In promoting the film, Bannon told the U.S. media that Huawei “is the greatest national security threat we have ever faced, as it is already in the process of a global tech domination via 5G and 6G.” Germany’s decision to not exclude Huawei from its 5G construction has shown even one of the closest allies of the United States believes the U.S. charges against Huawei are unsubstantiated and motivated by a desire to curb China’s technological advancement.

Aside from books and films, election campaigns are venues where U.S. politicians tap into the China bogeyman fiction to woo voters and political donors in their efforts to win posts in government and legislature.

Popular elections can lead to demagogues dominating national politics. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for American Politics, said, “Demagoguery is a kind of extreme populism that preys on people’s worst fears and often hidden emotions.”

The unfounded accusations against Huawei and other China-bashing stories evoke déjà vu of McCarthyism in the 1950s, when U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, a demagogue, launched a witch hunt during the notorious “red scare” period.

With the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaching, the world is going to see an escalation of China bashing by U.S. politicians from both Republican and Democratic parties. Moderate and rational voices that call for engagement with China will probably be drowned out by the voices of hawks. By inventing or playing up a threat from China, the hawks make China a scapegoat for the grievances of voters and send the message that they are there to protect America from the threat. This is in fact a marketing gimmick that can easily fool many voters who are unable to see through the shenanigans and lack the expertise to make informed judgements on international relations.

Bannon has said the U.S. and Chinese systems are incompatible, and as a result, “One side is going to win, and one side is going to lose.”

A person with basic logical capacities can point out that there are at least two more possibilities: win-win and lose-lose situations for both countries. The result will depend on what path is taken to tackle the differences and friction. Never mind, Bannon and the like do not care about logic. They just sell fear for their own gain.

(The author is head of the Shenzhen Daily News Desk.)