This past evening, John Schmid, a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting grant, gave a talk on his research on China’s role as a leading producer in the paper industry and the consequent effect on Wisconsin, a former lead in the American paper industry. According to his article featured in the Los Angeles Times, “Over the course of the last decade, China tripled its paper production and in 2009 overtook the United States as the world’s biggest papermaker.”
And it’s no wonder that China has managed to fight its way to the top. With its genetically engineered “Yao Ming” trees that can grow up to 30 meters in only five years, Wisconsin cannot out-compete when its trees take nearly five decades to grow—and they don’t even grow up to be the size of China’s “Yao Ming” trees. In addition to genetically modified trees, China has yet another competitive edge in its factories; Chinese papermaking factories can produce Wisconsin’s annual paper supply in only three days. And while many argue that China may have a competitive edge in producing paper at the expense of the environment, Schmid points out that China has also become a world leader in its paper recycling scheme. Among its top five exports is in fact other countries’ paper wastes, which are de-inked, re-pulped and recycled into two-thirds of China’s paper products. It seems that where Americans tend to see China as the profit-driven, tunnel-visioned enemy, there is in fact much to learn from certain sectors of the Chinese economy.
It’s interesting that we tend to associate globalization resistance sympathy with “the other”–except when it comes to foreign economic relations. In particular, China is rarely viewed benignly in the American media, especially when it comes down to its extremely competitive economy. In response to its flourishing papermaking industry, discourse among Wisconsin residents and paper-mill towns has been very anti-multinational corporations. In 2010, Kimberly-Clark, a major papermaking corporation in Wisconsin, attempted to assert its resistance through voting to impose a tariff on imported paper.
This form of protest is not necessarily a statement of perhaps human rights violations within the factories, workers rights or economic disparity in China–but rather, it is American resistance against economic globalization. In general, it seems that China often gets the rap for its environmentally unsound policies, its black market, its socio-political policies, etc. But what about the nations that escape the US’s moral radar? Ultimately, are Americans really upset over these issues or instead using them as channels to vent our covert resistance to globalization that did not work in Americans’ favor?