Froma Harrop | Can We Break the China Habit?

It’s been tough watching fellow shoppers fill their carts with Chinese imports as the People’s Republic stomps on American interests and values. At WalMart, Bed Bath & Beyond and other big chains, it’s hard to find goods NOT-made-in-China. Lamps, popcorn makers, kitty scratch boards. Cuisinart toasters and Emeril cookware. Made in China.

My goodness! Drinking glasses from the Czech Republic. How did (SET ITAL) they (END ITAL) get here? The fancier the store, the greater the chance of finding things not produced by 75-cents-an-hour labor. But even there … I was looking through the bathrobes at an upscale department store, and every last one was made in China.

The creepy thing: China is not our friend, but it’s become our keeper. America’s Christmas trees groan with ornaments made in the country that lets North Korean threaten our troops and Asian friends. China supports the regime of the bizarre Kim Jong-il and his son, bent on strutting the world stage as a nuclear menace. China could close down the North Korean freak show tomorrow, but it won’t because that would create a unified Korea allied with the United States. China doesn’t want us to have strong ties in Asia.

Under the twinkling Christmas trees lie toys made in the place that imprisons a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner and threatened Norway (the Nobel’s home) with economic retaliation. Beijing called the award to human rights activist Liu Xiaobo an “anti-China farce.” Eighteen other countries, intimidated by China or in cahoots with it, boycotted the ceremony. At the same time, China blocked its citizens’ Internet access to reports on Liu and his prize.

Four years ago, the European parliament honored another jailed Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng. Beijing accused it of committing “violent interference in China’s internal affairs” and warned of harm to European interests. This is the country to which America has put itself in hock, mainly because we don’t have the discipline to raise taxes and/or cut spending — and instead borrow from the Chinese.

Other than ruthlessness, China does have one strength that this country lacks: a leadership foursquare behind modern science. While America’s carbon cavemen question the need for green energy — going so far as trying to halt California’s efforts to promote it — China is full-speed-ahead assembling clean-power equipment (while expropriating the technology from others).

Make no mistake. China is an environmental disaster. It continues to build the most primitive coal-fired power plants, and its air is so bad that made-in-China smog drifts to our West Coast. But its dictators see the future, and so have opened the national treasury to industries making solar panels and wind turbines. They’re also building high-speed passenger trains and rail lines. For a planned rail link between Beijing and Shanghai, one test train was clocked at over 300 miles an hour.

Long Island’s Suffolk County is putting a solar energy farm at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and erecting solar panels over seven public parking areas. The panels for the parking lots will come from China, as will many at the lab, with the rest also not-made-in-the-USA.

In one small but illustrative deal, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority is buying a Chinese-built wind turbine to power a wastewater pumping station. Chinese manufacturers now hold nearly half the globe’s $45 billion market for wind turbines.

Meanwhile, a significant segment of our so-called conservative leadership slows progress on behalf of polluters — and drugs the American public with tax cuts financed by debt to China. As Beijing frustrates Washington’s program to isolate Iran, Americans load their SUV trunks with Chinese tricycles, shirts and snow domes.

Makes you worry about our future. Makes you sad.

Copyright 2010 The Providence Journal Co.

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