Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Amelia Pang on the Human Cost of America’s Addiction to Cheap Goods

The investigative journalist joins Robert Scheer to discuss the story of a Chinese prisoner at the heart of her gripping new book, “Made in China.”
“Made in China.” [Illustration by Mr. Fish]

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As mass consumerism took hold in the United States over the past several decades, Americans became increasingly expectant that the goods available to them would be cheaper than previously imaginable. One of the costs of this phenomenon has been off-shored to factories primarily in China, where factory labor conditions are well known to be grueling. But another, less known fact, is that many goods are actually made by modern-day Chinese slaves in the country’s forced labor camps. Amelia Pang, an investigative journalist and the author of “Made in China,” joins Robert Scheer on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence” to talk about the human story at the heart of her book, which begins in 2012 with an SOS note found by an Oregonian in a package of KMart Halloween decorations. The journalist follows the thread of the note to its author, Sun Yi, and chronicles the story of how the young engineer went from starting a life with his beloved wife to becoming a political prisoner working in inhumane conditions that produce Americans’ junk.  

Due to a rising awareness in the West about how Uyghurs in Xinjiang are being imprisoned in “re-education” camps, the U.S. Congress is now considering legislation that would ban American companies from purchasing goods made in the Chinese region under the assumption they were produced by forced labor. Pang tells Scheer that Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple have lobbied against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, arguing that they have proof that the goods they manufacture in China are not the product of forced labor. The investigative journalist, who spent time in China conducting interviews and reporting on labor camps, warns that much of this “proof” is likely based on shoddy audits that are incomplete and often don’t take into subcontracting and other covert ways forced labor comes into the manufacturing equation. 

“Even if [a product is] from Taiwan, that doesn’t necessarily mean much,” explains Pang. “When I was in China visiting the labor camps and following the trucks to see which exporters they were working with, quite a few of them had connections with Taiwanese-owned factories.”

Scheer urges listeners to read Pang’s book, which he explains isn’t just about cut-and-dry statistics and facts relating to labor practices in China but is really a gripping story about Sun Yi’s tragic life and that of others whose lives were forever changed by labor abuses fueled by Americans’ seemingly insatiable consumption. Listen to the full discussion between Pang and Scheer as they grapple with how American individuals and their government might be able to impact workers’ rights in China and elsewhere through shifts in consumption and trade deals. 

Credits: 

Host:

Robert Scheer

Producer:

Joshua Scheer

Introduction:

Natasha Hakimi Zapata 

Transcript:

Lucy Berbeo 

RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. And in this case it’s Amelia Pang, who has written a really important book called Made in China. There’s a lot of people who won’t agree with it, including a lot of people in America who are dependent upon the exploitation of Chinese workers, whether they’re in a forced work situation, a labor camp, or whether they’re the young women who left the farms as part of their industrial revolution and make these products that right now surrounded me. The monitor, everything else that I’m using, and the clothes I’m wearing, I would say about 95, 98% of what I’m using is made in China. A place where most of the time when I was growing up, we would call the inscrutable kingdom, or what have you. 

And so Amelia Pang has the advantage of being fluent in Mandarin; her mother, she just told me as we were building up to this, really she communicates with her own mother in Mandarin…and yet was raised in the United States. And the book has gotten some very good reviews, and a couple of people that I’ve respected, or I do respect, Orville Schell of the Center on U.S.-China Relations calls it a “well-researched and reported book that reads like a detective story.” I happened to be a student in the UC Berkeley Center for Chinese Studies when Orville was there as a student, so we go back a long way. And Chris Hedges, who I publish on Scheerpost and, before, Truthdig, is very–and I believe–let me just start with that. I believe you worked with Chris Hedges. But really, let’s start with how you came to write this book, and what you basically think is the important message. It just came out on February 2nd, and I think it’s going to have a considerable impact on our policies towards China. Maybe let’s just begin with a piece of legislation that Apple and Nike oppose, and then connect it to the larger themes of your book. Welcome.

AP: Oh, thank you so much for the introduction. Yes, the legislation that corporations like Nike, Coca-Cola and Apple are currently lobbying against is the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. And this is a really critical piece of legislation, if it can get passed; it’s currently on, it’s been stalling in the Senate. And what that would do, I’m not–I’m sure most of your listeners are aware there is a genocide currently taking place amongst the Uyghurs. Many of them are forced to be in labor camps, making, manufacturing all kinds of products for us. Everything from the raw materials to solar panels, to human hair extensions–that’s gotten really popular these days–to even PPE equipment. And the camps are exporting, and there’s not much being done to actually stop these forced-labor goods from coming at a large scale. There’s kind of these Band-Aid solutions that are being posted. 

And so what the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would do is ban all products from the Xinjiang region, which is where the majority of the Uyghurs are detained, from entering the U.S. Because there’s really no way to verify if a factory in Xinjiang is using forced labor or not–or not using forced labor at the moment. Auditors are not allowed to go there and independently inspect the factories; the surveillance there is so tight, you cannot realistically go there and follow the trucks that leave these factories to see if they have a relationship with the camps. And what we’re seeing with satellite imagery is these camps are expanding at a massive–at an extremely fast rate. 

And so the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would be an incredibly powerful way to push China to rethink its policies. Because it was trade that sparked the mass detention of Uyghurs, and it is trade that can cause–push China to pull back on this. But unfortunately, corporate America does not seem to actually care. You know, they’re putting a lot of money into lobbying our legislators to heavily revise or not pass this act.

RS: Yeah. So let’s be clear about what we’re talking about. Your book’s primary focus–and by the way, it’s a compelling story; Orville says it reads like a detective story, and it does. And for once I’m talking to an author of a book that’s not 700 pages; the other books were all very valuable, but they took up a whole week of my life, and–you know, I’m not saying they weren’t rewarding. Your book, I think it can fairly be said that one could read it in a day, as you would read a detective novel. 

And it’s a compelling human story. I want to emphasize that. I mean, the people that have survived these labor camps, you know, went through a terrible experience, the equivalent of any–and I’ll put this in some kind of historical context. It’s not as if industrial development throughout the world has not been accompanied by slavery and exploitation of extreme nature. After all, the industrial revolution in England was fueled by the actual, literal slaves throughout the world who got the mass, raw materials, and certainly the vicious exploitation of English workers. And that’s, of course, throughout the world. 

And so China has obviously gone through a major industrial, and maybe the most significant industrial revolution in the world. It’s really in the midst of it; there’s now an attempt to go to a higher level of technology, 5G and everything else. But the fact is, whatever the system calls itself, whether it’s capitalist, socialist, communist, fascist, or what have you–or if you admit it to be fascist–the fact of the matter is, the exploitation of labor is critical to it. 

And I think that what you just said really hits on something. I do want to talk about these camps, because clearly there should be international law, and every agreement should say you don’t use people in prison and exploit them, and that they have human rights. But what’s often left out of the discussion is the rights of people who are not prisoners. And I just want to read something from your book, on Jeffrey Fiedler, who you quote; I don’t know much about him, but he runs, or ran an institution in Washington concerned about these issues. And you quote him as saying, “Clearly, forced-labor products are a small percentage of the total economy” in China. 

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to turn a blind eye to forced labor; forced labor is reprehensible, has to be banned, and one should not use products from forced labor, whether from American jails or from Chinese encampments, and now the suppression of a whole people, the Uyghurs. But the people lobbying against that bill from Apple and Nike, most of their products–and they probably claim all of their products–are produced [with] what they would call free labor. But that free labor, does it have the right to strike, does it have the right to political opposition, does it have–? So can we just, since you brought it up, why don’t we talk about that latest bill and how it got defeated. 

AP: Oh, yes. Back to Fiedler’s comment, that quote came from before we found out as much information as we did about the current state of the Uyghurs. That was more about the other, maybe the Han Chinese detainees. And yes–so this is not to say that all made in China products are made by forced labor, or that–but it is true that labor unions are not free to organize in Chinese factories. You can get sent to a labor camp yourself if you try to engage in labor activism, ironically. So just having this option for factories to outsource work to labor camps for incredibly cheap and incredibly fast production, really hurts the workers–the workers in regular factories.

RS: Yes, but this is true–for instance, people who say, well, when they were angry over the “China virus,” as President Trump called it, said oh, move your product. So where did people move to? They moved to other countries, one of which was Vietnam, another self-defined communist country, of course. Where they’ve had their own, Nike plants have had strikes and they’ve been broken up and so forth, for quite a long time in Vietnam. 

But elsewhere in the developing world, the fact of the matter is, the whole key to modern production now is to get cheap labor. And then when people complain that the jobs aren’t here, yeah, if you had some kind of decent, guaranteed minimum income or living income–for instance, stuff coming from Mexico, Trump in his renegotiation of the NAFTA accords, at least they wrote in a $16 an hour requirement for people working on cars exported to the United States, on 45% of the car. That was a rare concession or requirement in a trade agreement. 

So I just want to set the stage that, you know, when you mentioned the Han majority, I think it’s 94% of the country, so primarily the big labor issue in China is the rights of workers. Certainly the right of workers to protest without being sent to a forced labor camp. But in general, the right of workers to organize, to be in unions, to have their free speech and assembly rights guaranteed. So I–that is not the focus of your book, I just want to put that down there as a marker, unless you object or want to expand on it.

AP: Oh, I don’t object. I think that’s a fair point.

RS: OK. So, but then let’s speak specifically, what were the arguments of Apple and Nike against this bill and others?

AP: Oh, well, they say that they have evidence that their factories in Xinjiang are not using forced labor, that their factories have very good conditions. But what I found during my research was that, OK, the evidence that they claim are usually audits. And those audits are extremely, extremely flawed. These audits are designed to protect the corporation, not the workers. These audits are not designed to be able to detect something as complex as hidden subcontracting to forced labor camps. And so I would push back and ask them to show, what kind of evidence are you able to provide? How can you say you really know that your factories in Xinjiang are not using forced labor?

RS: Right, but again, before we move on to the really poignant descriptions of oppression of people in your book, in the forced labor camps–and there’s one particular person who died when he finally got out of the country, in Indonesia. I’d like you to talk about it, because he’s sort of kind of a major character in your book. But before we drop this other subject, I just want to be clear that the major issue of trade with China–or I shouldn’t say the major, most of the products that we’re talking about are products where you could criticize the employment conditions, because they don’t have rights–right?–that we assume, but we don’t assume as a matter of trade negotiation, that workers everywhere in the world should have. And that includes the right to organize, to assemble, to be in unions, to fight for their rights. And so, just curious, in your own research, to what degree does–is the U.S. Congress, when it talks about trade agreements, and now that’s going to be a big issue going forward, our trade agreements–do they talk about the rights of workers? Is any of that on the table, and to what degree?

AP: As we saw with Trump’s trade negotiations, the rights of workers, or human rights in China, was not discussed as a talking point.

RS: But were they discussed by previous administrations, the Obama administration?

AP: It does not appear to be the case, or if it was, it was never enforced. Sometimes these legislations will include nice words like that, but–and my book does go into this a bit more–they’re rarely ever enforced when it comes to China.

RS: OK, so I think this is a thing that’s important to establish. That American prosperity is largely–in the middle of a pandemic, somehow we’re able to have, you know, everything from toilet paper to frankly high tech-computers, everything else. We all–not all, but people who can do their work from home and from safety, are largely dependent upon–and certainly in the computer realm, and elsewhere–on products produced in China. That’s the major factory for the whole world. And people should not be allowed to get off the hook. And whether that’s produced by imprisoned labor, or it’s produced by what is called normal factory labor–it’s not normal in the sense that workers don’t have fundamental rights. 

And I would hate to have anybody go away from this discussion thinking the problem is simply in that one province or the forced labor camps. It’s–and that sort of lets these corporations off the hook. Because then they can say, OK, there should be new regulations about that, but don’t tell us what to do in, say, the Foxconn plants–which, by the way, are run by people from Taiwan, a country that we define as free. So without belaboring that, would you agree that that’s a fair parameter?

AP: Ah–yes, well, I mean, even if it’s from Taiwan, that does not–that doesn’t necessarily mean much. When I was in China visiting the labor camps and following the trucks to see which exporters they were working with, a lot of them, quite a few of them had connections with Taiwanese-owned factories. You know, in China there’s been some policy initiatives to reach out to Taiwan and bring, you know, Taiwanese companies and Taiwanese business owners into China, and to really bring them under the umbrella of China. So just because it says it’s made in Taiwan, or if the factory is owned by Taiwan, it doesn’t necessarily mean the workers there have–

RS: Well, yeah, and the main Apple plants–I haven’t looked into it recently, but for a long time, the main plants used by American companies, the biggest were run by Foxconn, which is a Taiwanese company; I’m just saying that. So you know, what we’re really talking about is whether human rights, fundamental human rights, should inform trade policy, and to what degree, and whether you do it in a consistent manner, irrespective of what the country defines itself as.

So let’s take it to the human level. And please tell us the story of the central character in your book, who really–he meets his future wife, it’s a compelling story of ordinary people, and they meet and they fall in love, and the difficulty of getting the job, and so forth. And then his relation–he, in terms of his exercise, health, and I guess religious conviction, he becomes part of Falun Gong, and so forth. And he’s persecuted for it. So could you just tell us his story, which is kind of for me an emotional, a compelling emotional, emotion-laden story in the book?

AP: Thank you. Yes, the main character’s name is Sun Yi. Well, “character” is not the right word; this is nonfiction. His name was Sun Yi. And he, you know, he was quite a compelling character. I really wanted to humanize him in the story and just show, you know, his story, his experience, and the experiences of many people in these labor camps. They’re not so–their overall life experience is not so different from you and I. You know, they are fathers, they are somebody’s parents, they are somebody’s children. You know, they have–they fall in love, and they have dreams and hopes. And all of that is just arbitrarily taken away in an instant, if somebody gets disappeared into a labor camp. And in these camps they’re making our cheap goods. 

I want to actually start from the beginning, to really set the environment. My book starts with an American suburban woman named Julie Keith. She opens up this brand-new package of Halloween decorations from Kmart. And as she’s opening up the package and pulling open, tearing up the cellophane, out falls this SOS letter that’s written by the political prisoner, Sun Yi, who had made and packaged this very product in a labor camp. And you know, it’s just, it was just such a trivial product, it was Halloween decorations that someone had purchased for an extremely, extremely low price–

RS: They were gravestones, right?

AP: Yes, yes, they were Styrofoam gravestones. And you know, the person who purchased it, purchased it for the express reason that it was cheap. Nobody actually needed it. You know, it sat in her storage for two years before she remembered that she had it and tried to open it. And so it just–I think it’s a great example of just the trivialness of these products, and the problems with our own consumption culture, and our own consumer habits that really contribute to factors on the other side of the world. That, you know, it’s these factors that compel Chinese factories to outsource work to labor camps. Some of them actually have no choice but to outsource work to labor camps, because they realistically cannot make these products for that cheap of a price and pay their workers the minimum wage. Or they realistically cannot make it for this fast of a pace that they’re required to make them. They have to outsource work to labor camps where detainees can work 15, 20 hours a day to make, to meet the deadline.

RS: I want you to tell the story of the book, because I think it’s a book people should read, need to read, and it’s compelling. And I’ve talked enough, so please, take the rest of the 10 minutes or whatever we have, or whatever we need, and really tell the story of the book. And, you know, I do want to motivate people to get into it.

AP: Thank you. So the book is about the political prisoners that end up in these camps, you know. They are–these camps are arbitrary–these camps are extralegal detention centers where people are arbitrarily detained. You know, most of them have not been sentenced in court; they haven’t had a trial. And most of them do not have access to lawyers. And they can be held in these facilities indefinitely. And if they die, they’re often buried in unmarked graves, and nobody ever really knows what happened to them or what their story is. So I wanted to just give a voice to some of these people who never–would not have otherwise had their stories be heard by the outside world. 

But before they’re dying in pretty large numbers, they’re making our trivial, cheap goods. And I think it really does tie back to corporate greed. Because it’s easy to say, oh, this is a problem with China and the authoritarian regime, and there’s not much that we as the average consumer, or even company, can do about it. But that is not true. During my research, I found that there was a lot of very poor sourcing practices that companies, that our corporations were engaging in, that really encouraged these Chinese suppliers to use forced labor. And for example, if a company like H&M or Kmart, or Walmart, if they put in an order for 100,000 black hats, and give the factory a certain amount of time to make it, their contract often allows them to arbitrarily change the order without giving them a deadline extension or waiving the production fines if they make a late shipment. 

So let’s say the fast-fashion trend is changing because a celebrity started suddenly wearing lime-green hats. So now everybody wants to sell lime-green hats; a company, these companies are going to go back to that order and change their order to lime green instead of black. And that’s a pretty, pretty significant change, and if they don’t give their factory enough time to make the change, then this factory can’t make it. They have to outsource work to some really, really disturbing places like labor camps. 

And so the point is that these are sourcing practices that our corporations can control, and we as consumers can really push them to be more transparent about. And I do think there’s hope for change. Because in the nineties, you saw this kind of mass protest in universities, protesting Nike’s use of sweatshops, back when we first found out about them. And they were quite powerful; although they didn’t hurt Nike’s bottom line in the long run, it did scare the corporate elites enough to the point where they did make some significant changes to their sourcing practices, including doing audits and actually publishing some information about what they found in their audits. That was really unprecedented. 

And that was only made possible because the consumers, the people who are their target market, university students, cared. And, you know, made a lot of noise about it. But since the nineties, we haven’t really–ah, that kind of a consumer-led movement has died down. And I think that’s a shame, because there’s a lot more that should be done. The audits that corporations are currently conducting are extremely flawed. You know, often when you see a big scandal like the Kmart SOS letter that was discovered, and all the media reported on it, the company will usually just say, oh, ah, but we had conducted an audit, and our audit found that there wasn’t any forced labor in our factories. 

But I think that’s not a good enough answer, not a good enough statement. Because not all audits are created equal. What kind of audit did you conduct? You know, their standard of audits that cost a couple hundred dollars, that might only look for the cleanliness of the factory, the quality of the merchandise and the equipment. They don’t really look at the rights of the workers, or whether the numbers in the factories are really matching up. Whether they’re actually making all the products in-house, or are they subcontracting where they’re supposed to be subcontracting to. It doesn’t look for any of that. And then you have more expensive, $5,000 audits that take five days to do. And Chinese auditors have told me this is the only kind of audit that could potentially detect forced labor. You know, they really do in-depth interviews, and they cross-analyze the wage documents in multiple departments to see if there’s any kind of illegal subcontracting going on. 

But how many corporations are actually spending that amount of money for these really comprehensive audits? You know, that kind of information is not often revealed in these so-called sustainability pages and corporate social responsibility pages that are on everybody’s websites these days, but for the most part these kinds of terms–transparency, sustainability, and ethical sourcing–they’re just marketing buzzwords that help corporations make a lot of money. But I hope what my book would do is to just educate people on what these terms are actually–how little these types of terms and supply-chain pages actually reveal, and what they should be saying, if we really want to know that our products are not being made in labor camps.

RS: So I think that that is a very important corrective, if you want, to the effect of consumer fetishism, or the consumer obsession. I mean, America is drunk on cheap products from the rest of the world, on the rape of resources of the rest of the world. And so it’s “too good to check” as to actually what is somebody being paid when they’re making your iPhone, whether it’s in a forced labor camp–which is awful, as awful as it gets–or in what is called normal human practice, if you don’t have the right to demand an improvement of your conditions, or any labor rights, or so forth. 

But please revisit the love affair. Because this book is really about a love affair of two people; I don’t want people to think this is some sort of tedious, statistical work or something; it’s a compelling, among other things, love story of two people who are trying to survive in China. And, you know, they don’t start out trying to break the law or anything. They’re trying to have a marriage. And it ends with, you know, tragedy of–you know, horrible tragedy. And so could you just tell that story? I don’t want to lose it here.

AP: Thanks for bringing that up. Yes, there is a love story in the book. The author of the SOS letter that made it to the U.S., he was quite a romantic, you know. He met this girl in college that he fell madly in love with, but it wasn’t so easy for them to be together, because she was from a different part of China. And, you know, due to the hukou system in China, it’s not so easy to just move around to different cities and resettle there; you’ve got to have certain government forms approved, and to do that, in order to move to a city and be able to legally get a job there. And so they had a hard time finding a way to be together, even though they loved each other very much. 

And against all odds, they were able to finally get married and live together in Beijing. And, you know, it seemed like the start of a very, very promising and happy life. They had–they were a relatively young couple that had their whole future ahead of them. But then the man, Sun Yi, got involved with Falun Gong, which is this religious group that in China, they had been involved in some pretty large-scale protests that really, in the late nineties, they had organized a 10,000-person protest that really quite scared the Chinese government, because it reminded them of the 1989 protest. You know, you don’t often see a mass gathering like that in China, and the Chinese government works very hard to keep it that way. 

So shortly after that protest, they were banned, and since then they’ve taken on a lot of political dissent in China, in terms of, like, advocating for pro-democracy, activism, and trying to stand up to an authoritarian regime. And many of them, if they continue to participate in these kinds of political activities, they would get sent and disappeared into labor camps. So unfortunately, this man spent a lot of his years in labor camps, and his wife was faced with–you know, she wasn’t a follower of Falun Gong, and she could have just had a normal life and married someone else. But she–you know, they–they had to fight really hard to save their marriage. And, you know, it’s ultimately a human story about the human cost of our cheap goods.

RS: It is, it’s a compelling story. And let me say something about Falun Gong, because that’s–every country in the world that wants to control its people, or [their] actions, finds demons, finds people to scapegoat or hold accountable. And depending on whatever your political system is, you’ll find enemies, you know, based on their religion or their supposed politics. And Falun Gong is a group that has had probably–and you suggested in your book–probably been the major organizing opposition, in a way, to the regime in China. And we don’t have time to really go into it, and your book’s really not about it. But there are many such groups throughout the world. And they’re a mixture of religion and politics, and in this case even exercise and health routines and so forth. 

And the question is, you know, governments can always jump on such groups and demonize them and make them a big threat, because governments, as Orwell points out, always have to have enemies to justify their control of the population. So Falun Gong falls into that category. And in this case, it really is an effort to control not just the individuals you’re talking about, but the life around them. You know, so they’re bad people, or certainly he is in the eyes of the government and authorities, and he suffers as a result of it. 

But I just want to–I think people should read this book; I don’t think we’re doing it justice. And it’s hard to do any, you know, any book really justice in a conversation. But I was moved by their story, by this couple. It just brought it home: you can have all these abstract discussions you want about, you know, freedom and the economy and trade policy and so forth. But it boils down to people trying to survive in any system. And so, you know, I don’t want to tell you what you have to stress in your book. But just tell us a little bit more about this guy’s–you know, he’s not an evil person, right? He’s a person trying to do the right thing, and have a love affair, and a marriage. And yet, you know, be responsible. And he ends up, it ends up all falling apart. And he ends up dying quite early, and not in his own country.

AP: Yes, he did have a tragic ending, unfortunately. But he was an incredibly intelligent man who was intellectually curious. During the eighties, when China was first opening up after the Cultural Revolution, you know, he became very curious in Western philosophy; he really enjoyed reading Hegel. And, you know, he was a very curious person who had dreams of traveling the world, and a lot of that unfortunately was not able to take place. What happened was a man who was once contemplating Hegel was now reduced to a mechanism in a labor camp, doing repetitive tasks for 15 to 20 hours a day, so much that it just really degraded his mind. It just–even if it didn’t kill him physically, at least not immediately, you know, it really killed him spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. And that’s the price of our cheap goods.

RS: You know, I’m not making light of it, but I think it would make a compelling movie, the love story of these two people. Because it really goes to the heart of the cost of callousness in economic policy, criminal justice, whatever; it’s piercing the skin of ordinary humans, it’s destroying ordinary humans who get caught up in this. And when they discuss trade agreements or economic policy, wherever–if we talk about prison reform in the United States, for example, and who’s caught up in the prison-industrial complex. If you’re talking about, in any country, no matter the pretenses of the country, whether it calls itself democratic or socialist or anything else, you know, these labels are really a way of concealing responsibility of the state to the people. You know, and China is very much informed by a kind of Confucian notion of the “good emperor”. So whoever is running the country, they at least claim they’re guided by a notion of somewhat enlightened control. And yet, you don’t maintain it in the face of profit and power and greed. And those characteristics come to dominate. 

And really, the human story in your book reminds us of what goes on, certainly under any prison-industrial complex, but also even what goes on in sweatshops in countries all over the world, including here in Los Angeles. Not to the same degree, and not in the same way. But there’s a human cost to our affluence, there’s a human cost to our consumerism, that brought me to tears reading it in your book. You know, I just felt, wait a minute, I don’t want to wear clothes that are produced under these conditions. And you know, our whole affluence in the United States right now is dependent upon the working conditions in China, of any kind. That’s the reality; we are feeding this because of our demand for cheap goods, and our delight in having–people throw away clothes now, they’re produced so cheaply. And that’s really the moral tale here, I think.

AP: Thank you so much, Bob. I appreciate that.

RS: Well, do you want to add anything else to it? Because I do think you’re on to a very important subject. It couldn’t be more important. It’s how do we live, how do we survive, who–who are our servants? You know, because if you’re the consumer at the end of this whole thing, if people are being beaten, whipped or underpaid, or exploited in any one way, you’re actually the master that’s being served. You, the consumer. And everybody wants to leave that out. And to my mind–and that applies anywhere, whether things are produced in India or whether they’re produced in South Carolina, I don’t know. You have to talk about, who are the people making these things, and what are the conditions? And you have an obligation to make sure their conditions are humane. I don’t want to tell you what your book’s about, but I think it’s a compelling love story that has a very powerful political message. 

AP: Thank you so much. Yes, even if it’s made in South Carolina, the raw materials could still be from a labor camp in China.

RS: Right. And even if it’s made in South Carolina, they should have labor unions, and they should have rights, and they shouldn’t be runaway shops. And I’m not putting them all on the same level. But the fact is, it’s something we’ve lost sight of. The whole Industrial Revolution was accompanied by workers struggling to improve their conditions. My own parents worked in garment sweatshops in Manhattan, you know; I watched it, and when there wasn’t air conditioning, and you know, horrible–they literally were sweating. 

And so I’m not saying the suffering in every situation is comparable. Yes, a slave labor camp is far worse. But the fact of the matter is, there is no human rights without workers’ rights. Now, that may sound like some kind of political cant or slogan, but it’s a reality. How people make their living is the main way you define how they spend their time, what they get to do with their family, what is their health, what mood are they in. I remember my parents would ride from those sweatshops, you know, exhausted, incapable almost of communication. 

So reading your book, I think OK, this is a story about China. It’s a story about the Industrial Revolution. After all, China can claim they’ve raised hundreds of millions of people out of the worst kind of poverty. Yes, they have the beginnings of the American dream of a middle class that de Tocqueville celebrated. But the fact of the matter is, throughout human history it’s the people working in these factories and in these fields that have paid the price. After all, America’s prosperity was built on slavery, first of all of the Native Americans and then of Black people from Africa and elsewhere, and the exploitation of cheap labor from all over the world. 

And what we are having in China, irrespective of political system, is a repetition of the Industrial Revolution. And you have done what Dickens has done. You’ve done, fortunately with much fewer words, you’ve exposed very pointedly the cost, the real human cost of our cheap goods. 

And so on that note, unless you want to get the last word in, which you certainly deserve, I want to recommend this book. It’s published by Algonquin [Books], Made in China. It’s not going to make you comfortable all the time. I happen to agree with Orville Schell that it reads like a detective story. And one of the reviewers–the New York Times, I think, was quite positive, but they put down your opening about somebody opening, in Oregon, opening their two-years-old Christmas wrappings and finding this note. I thought it was a great way to begin, because it put the American consumer at the center of this story. You can’t avoid your connection with this. If you want those phony gravestones, they’re going to come from people who unfortunately have a more omnipresent sense of their own gravestone. 

So on that note, I want to thank Amelia Pang for doing this. Again, the book is Made in China. I want to thank Christopher Ho at KCRW for posting these podcasts, and a great FM station in Santa Monica. I want to thank Natasha Hakimi Zapata for doing the introduction, Lucy Berbeo for doing the transcription, Joshua Scheer for, you know, finding me books and guests that I would probably not have had; this is one of them. He kept bugging me to do this, I’m glad I did. And I want to thank you. And I want to thank the JWK Foundation in the memory of a terrific writer who exposed a lot of wrongdoing, Jean Stein, for helping underwrite these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

AP: Thank you so much.

39 comments

  1. Frankly, I don’t trust Amelia Pang’s reporting. This is because as much by her associates as her ‘work’. Her mentor and likely source of Xinjiang atrocities is Adrian Zenz, a fully discredited German evangelical anti-communist who neither speaks Chinese nor has even been in China. I will never read her book, but I would be interested to see her sources.
    In terms of the interview, she both withholds information and offers information inappropriately. She never explains the reasons why ‘camps’ exist in Xinjiang in the first place, nor why Falun Gong would be deprecated in China. There really have been terrorist attacks committed by Uyghurs in Xinjiang and other Chinese provinces. Falun Gong is really a heretical Buddhist prosperity-Gospel cult that preaches anti-communism & the destruction of the CPC. Neither could be tolerated by any state, especially one with a history of concerted attacks by the United States.
    Then, whenever Robert Scheer tried to direct her to the general problem of labor rights and human rights all around the world, she does her best to steer towards Xinjiang, as if that were the worst. Prison labor exists all over the world, including in the US. Low-paid, onerous work exists all over the world, including the US. Labor rights are abused all over the world, including the US.

    I lived and worked in China. I noticed right away almost the complete lack of homeless people. I discovered that all of the employees of my university (including me) had some form of housing and that was due to Chinese law. Our university employees would usually go home for the weekend, often to a village hours away by train. So, it is just as likely that these Uyghur camps are merely factories with housing attached and the derogation of them is merely due to a strong and growing China-hating propaganda.
    Of course, due to the terrorism threat, there are re-education centers where the Chinese state attempts to de-radicalize Muslim extremists; this includes vocational and language training. I am sure for the most intransigent, there are indeed prisons and prison labor. And why not prison labor? I think that labor would be an essential part of re-education.
    Finally, until these reports from Xinjiang, no one in the West seemed to give a fig for the rights of Muslim people. On the contrary, America has spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives dedicated to destroying as much of Muslim civilization and lives as they could. Is this Uyghur thing not hypocritical?

    1. It would be hypocritical if Robert Scheer had ever, in any way, supported the destruction of Muslims by the US. There is no more reason to be an apologist for Chinese racism, oppression imperialism and genocide than there is to excuse American racism, oppression, imperialism and genocide — unless you are a member of the CCP…

    2. Meanwhile, we should be reassured because your Chinese university had dorms that this oppression to millions is a lie…

      1. I only point out that unlike in the USA, people in China have a right to housing, so when rural people migrate to the city and take jobs, they get shelter. I also mean to show that there are alternate explanations for these large ‘camps’ than prison slave labor. More & more, I see that the West only understands others based on its own experience & world view. So, while the US employs slave labor to this day and precarious labor to this day, Americans naturally assume China does the same. Coupling this by the ruling class’ obsession with world dominance, we see constant anti-China propaganda without basis.

      2. I am extremely shocked at the Editor’s aggressive responses to well-intended and informed criticism. For one, it does not appear you’ve read closely the reader’s comments. Second, the suggestion that he might be a ‘communist agent’ is remarkable. Of all news-sites I’d think Scheerpost would be the last to engage in such McCarthyesque smearing.

        The reader’s comments are apt. It’s very common in China for factories to have dormitories because workers come from the countryside. And you obviously have not made an effort to inform yourself on the Uyghur issue, seemingly accepting on faith the speciously-sourced claims of mainstream press like any average, passive news consumer. I don’t need to introduce Max Blumenthal to you, he’s led the pack on this one so I urge you to see for yourself.

        You also have not done your homework, I’m sorry to say, with Amelia Pang. She’s with the Epoch Times, an extremist propaganda operation founded and staffed by Falun Gong (who are anti-medicine, believe aliens make us do bad things, that through Qigong you can levitate, and the races will be separated in the afterlife hence mixed-race children are destined for hell, and their symbol is a literal swastika – all easily verifiable facts Pang did not include in her description of the religion, which should raise a red flag). Epoch Times is funded by Robert Mercer and the state department via the Alliance for Global Media. They’ve been caught putting hundreds of bots on Facebook, they support trump in the extreme, and they push all sorts of quackery and conspiracy theories. The work of anyone associated with them simply cannot be taken at face value.

        There is no doubt we are a terribly consumerist, wasteful society. I am sure there are awful things in Chinese factories (just like American ones) and work camps (just like our prison-industrial complex). But according to this 2013 “Congressional Executive Commission on China, Prospects for Reforming China’s Re-education Through Labour System” available at cecc.gov, citing a Beijing paper, there have been 4 million reformees in the history of the system. That’s about 67 thousand per year, and that’s awful. But China’s entire manufacturing workforce is over 112 million people. That means the chances any given product comes from forced labor is low. Let’s get our own house in order before we criticize other people and places we don’t understand, and for goodness sake let’s not feed into this burgeoning new cold war. Thank you.

      3. I never called anybody a communist agent. Sorry if wrote in a way that was unclear; I, like most of you, I suspect, slap these notes out while on short breaks at a day job…

        Other folks are smearing Ms. Pang, who I frankly don’t know from Adam, and I was merely sticking to my consitent line: I don’t like when folks excuse one set of wrongs by pointing to similar set of wrongs done elswehere. I believe there is even a common apohorism for that. I see a lot of folks who like to defend non-Western governments by pointing to the hypocrisy of the West. That was a fresh and valuable take in 1965, it seems a little staler to me today.

        Examples:
        I can believe Russiagate is an overhyped and dangerous Democratic Party/MSNBC obsession, that the United States has been messing with other people’s elections, revolutions and overall history in terrible and blowback-inducing ways for 150 years and …. ALSO that Putin is nationalist dictator who has an interest in supporting disruptive anti-democratic forces like Trump, and that Russiagate nonsense has some real differences from the “Stop the Steal” nonsense that do not make them neat parallels, as is implied by Greenwald and others.

        Similarly, you can talk about mainstream media, Max Bluementhal, and all wonderful attempts to parse what is truth from propaganda in all directions, but if you are going to then imply that the Chinese Communist Party does not have a terrible history of mistreating non-Han minority groups, from the Tibetans through to the Uighers, and your evidence is that somebody’s workplace had dormitories and the West is anti-Muslim, then I’m not going to have a lot of patience for that type of evidence!

        I know what Falun Gong is, Epoch Times is, Robert Mercer, etc. Sheesh. I also know that Falun Gong can simultaneously hold nutty beliefs and act like a cult while also being in bed with the American (and Chinese-America) right-wing and ALSO be abused by Chinese authoriteis for decades. Uighers can be held in re-edcuation camps in an absolute human rights atrocity AND the US prison system can be corrupted by giving basically free labor to undercut unions and workers in a dismally inequitable late-stage capitalist economic system.

        And Amelia Pang may have recovered and grown wiser after her work with Epoch Times and the German researcher. Hopefully the truth will continue do be examined!

        Finally, to be clear again: I am NOT Bob Scheer, NOT an editor in chief of this site, but am just another person with opinions of their own.

      4. I appreciate your response. I can tell you mean what you say.

        First, your name is “Editor” and it appears in a grey font unlike every other commentator here. Are you saying you are not in any way affiliated with Scheerpost.com?

        Second, listen to yourself:

        “I know what Falun Gong is, Epoch Times is, Robert Mercer, etc. Sheesh. I also know that Falun Gong can simultaneously hold nutty beliefs and act like a cult while also being in bed with the American (and Chinese-America) right-wing and ALSO be abused by Chinese authoriteis for decades.”

        is No.

        “I know what Falun Gong is, Epoch Times is, Robert Mercer, etc. Sheesh. I also know that Falun Gong can simultaneously hold nutty beliefs and act like a cult while also being in bed with the American (and Chinese-America) right-wing and” followed by:

        “I therefore will not accept at face value their adherents’ claims”

        is YES. When someone lacks credibility, you must scrutinize them. It’s simple.

        Part II: Uyghurs and Xinjiang. You haven’t done the work, though there is a certain parallel. Look at Max BluEEEmenthal (SIC) and the GrayZone’s work and revisit every major NY Times and BBC report on Xinjiang and you’ll see the credit-unworthy Christian Fascist Adrian Zenz is at the heart of it all. Thus there is no basis for you to use this ‘absolute atrocity’ hyperbole.

        Finally you haven’t so much as been prepared to admit Pang is falun gong or deeply affiliated therewith now you’re trying to say she’s evolved?

        Listen to yourself. You’re busted. It happens. Take it and grow.

        I’m assuming you’re some lackey way over your head. All we want is for you to kick this issue up the chain! Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges have made a big mistake on this one. I am as heartfelt a devotee of their work- Hedges in particular means a lot to me at a personal level. And I probably buy half of the books Scheer showcases, which ain’t bad. I take no pleasure in this. I have the highest confidence that if they are shown the facts in clear air they’ll agree 100%.

      5. Ooooh, a lackey! Thanks, man! That might be my new sign-in!

        Nobody here is against scrutinizing, obviously! Kind of the point of the site. I assume Hedges and Scheer have and continue to do the same. And yeah, I pass on the criticisms that appear down here, and have done so in this case. However, I haven’t seen much in the comments that says more than “don’t trust the messenger,” which is valid as far it goes. So, what is the truth? All good up in China? Muslims being treated well? Nothing to report? I suppose the fact that nobody is allowed to visit these areas and camps isn’t even a teensy-weensy red flag?

        (For what it’s worth, Scheer’s main questions and interest in the book seem to be about the OVERALL TREATMENT OF WORKERS in China and the world, and nowhere does he endorse the use of the word “genocide” which is one of Blumenthal’s main beefs with Pang).

        And let’s remember that you commented orginally on my comment on another commenter … who implied that there is no homelessness in China, that no goverment in the world could tolerate a native-version of Falun Gong, and dropped in a repellent “yeah, and there are terrorists there, so what do you expect” type of note, as well.

        The irony of all this is hard to stomach. WE COULD DISCOUNT EVERYTHING BLUMENTHAL (or Hedges, for that matter) SAYS IN THE SAME EXACT WAY as folks are doing, simply because they are paid a salary by RT which is a owned and operated by the Russian government. Would you blanket trust what a paid employee of Voice of America or “Current Time” said about the US treatment of African-Americans? Or, we could write off Blumenthal’s reporting because he is the son of Clintonite Sidney Blumenthal, and H.R. Clinton claims to be one of his biggest fans. Should we? Hell no! Blumenthal has done a ton of on the ground reporting, sticks his neck out, takes stands, is smart and insightful, is in the trenches. All power to him! (And please, don’t go all gotcha on me and tell me I am equating Blum with Pang, in terms of accuracy — I’m not fact-checking either of them from China.)

        And yeah, I work on the site. Never denied it. Have a day job, so anonymous. I have opinions, too, so I share them while hand-approving the comments.

      6. Listen to yourself. You sound like you are saying it’s not sufficient to consider Pang unreliable just because she wrote for the The Epoch Times. Would you say someone who writes for Der Stuermer shouldn’t be distrusted solely on that basis? Epoch Times isn’t quite so open about it, but they are right up there ideologically, and certainly beyond the pale. Facebook caught them coordinating 800 bots to promote their bull! They’re funded by the state department and Robert Mercer! And Falun Gong is an insane cult, with a swastika as their symbol, that believes mixed race children are an abomination, that everything bad in society is the fault of aliens, that you don’t need modern medicine if you do their qigong right, and if you really keep it up you’ll literally keep it up, i.e. levitate! Get some perspective man.

        Furthermore, if you look at the acknowledgements in the book, you’ll see she received backing from the Laogai Research Foundation, which is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, i.e. the soft power arm of the state department that funds all kinds of propaganda. The book is an op! Wake up!!!

  2. So we get the same old story here as in all the MSM. I suppose the “hero” Navalny is next, and the Hong Kong democracy fighters. The USA has the largest incarcerated population in the world, many for “crimes” of dubious truth, and the prisoners are loaned out to corporations to make profit from their lack of choice of workplace!
    There are at least 36 designated ethnic groups in china, most of them given extra privileges and certainly keeping their own traditions. The Uighurs are helped with jobs and housing, have many mosques including the biggest one in China, yet these “revelations” are all we ever hear, as in North Korea, by people with an axe to grind.

  3. It’s been said that China is becoming more capitalist and less communist by the minute. Their reliance on increasing amounts of slave labor indicates this. I recall a Netflix doc about wine (can’t remember the name), and it spoke of winemaking in China and how it’s a booming industry. The vineyards are worked by Muslim slaves (can’t remember if they were Uyghurs), it was bad. China is even affecting France to no small extent. Nevertheless, American consumption drives it like no other.

    My understanding is that China is moving away from a labor-intensive economy to a capital-intensive one. They’ve been offloading labor to Vietnam as Pang stated. Max Keiser stated as much a year or two ago, which makes sense.

    The story of Julie Keith and the SOS letter reminded me of some grape tomatoes I’ve seen in the supermarket. It’s NatureSweet Cherubs, and on the inside of the sticker on top of the plastic packaging, I’ve seen a drawing of a worker on it, giving us their name and what they do and all that. Just a quick blurb. Considering we know that field labor is slave labor in America, and that Hispanics work the fields quite a lot, I always wondered if this person I was reading about was really a field slave. If so, at least these slaves are no longer nameless nor anonymous.

    1. So, you buy into Netflix documentaries? I also suppose you believe that Syria’s White Helmets are benign, heroic actors. State propaganda runs deep & American attitudes towards China are based on their own experience. By the way, the ‘SOS’ letter came from Shenyang in Liaoning Province, probably 2000 miles from Xinjiang. To believe that China willfully make ‘slaves’ out of Muslims is incredibly naive and contrary to every principle of communism and the Chinese Constitution.

      1. So please, elaborate that it’s somehow impossible for there to be slavery elsewhere in the world, that it only exists in the US. While you’re at it, explain how Chinese capitalism (which is factually what’s going on there) is somehow benign and that it’s massive wealth it’s built up in such short time is somehow not based on slavery.

        To ignore those facts is to believe a capitalist fairy tale.

        I suppose you also believe Saudi Arabia is some benign nation that treats women fairly, and it’s only gotten a bad reputation due to American propaganda. Are you also a holocaust hoaxer?

        I’m not even sure you know what communism is, in its classical sense. What’s been going on there for decades isn’t ‘communism’, it’s “state capital”, a topic Karl Marx himself wrote about in Capital v2. Read it. Until the workers get power, which there they have none, then there’s no shot at socialism much less communism. But don’t fret, most Americans are just as ham-handedly dumb when it comes to defining socialism, communism, etc.

        To believe that the Chinese elite (which do exist) adhere to “every principle of communism and the Chinese Constitution” is naive to such obscene levels it touches on ignorance.

        Go ahead, please enlighten me exactly how Netflix is spewing false news. I’m sure they probably are, but you’re clearly the expert here so I’m telling you to produce facts that prove Netflix is spewing misinformation over Chinese slavery.

        I fully realize that the US is no hero in this. I also realize China isn’t one either. It’s not an either/or, only an idiot would indulge in that. You really need to divest yourself from your politically bipolar fantasies. You’re the reason increasing numbers on the left hate liberals.

      2. Marble Rye, your notion that China is not ‘socialist’ nor ‘communist’ but ‘state capitalist’ is a common criticism among the left, at least in the US. I find this notion absurdly hypocritical coming from the heart of capitalism’s global hegemony. “Communism with Chinese characteristics” was/is a response to the obvious question of how to create socialism from an overwhelmingly backward agrarian economy, further one suffering from centuries of colonial exploitation. Essentially, what we see in modern China is the answer to that question, one that was also asked by the Communist Party in 1917 Russia. The answer for a decade was the NEP, which worked with peasants and workers to increase agricultural output in order to develop industry. As you probably know, that program was interrupted by Stalinism, who developed ‘state capitalism’ on steroids at the expense of the peasantry.
        China worked in reverse, probably due to the overdeveloped landlord system and dearth of private farmers. So, in the beginning, Chinese agriculture was massively collective; however, that system had the shortcoming that if was inefficient. When China allowed its peasantry a modicum of private land and time to work it, production increased dramatically, allowing industry to develop [a nation cannot have industry without means to feed it].
        China developed apace with a mix of private & public enterprises, but keeping the ‘commanding heights’ in the hands of the state, such as land, key industries, and finance.
        So, today, there are some very wealthy individuals, but they do not have the kind of political power enjoyed by Western billionaires. American leftists shake their heads over this and without necessary knowledge or ability to notice nuance, just condemn China as a capitalist, imperialist country–which, of course, is all they know.
        Netflix is an enjoyable medium, but not one that is politically aware. I offer the award-winning White Helmets fiction portrayed as documentary as example. Practically none of its content conformed with reality. I have not seen their Uyghur film (if there is one), but judging from the zeitgeist, it, too, will be fictional.
        Finally, I am no ‘liberal’, as that name is currently applied in America, and any ‘leftist’ that buys into the current anti-China pogrom is very, very wrong-headed.

      3. Complicating oversimplification of anything is something I am a big fan of.

        China, like every other nation-state, is neither all this, or all that, and we like to put things in binary boxes.

        That said, your faith in the long-term genius/planning of the CCP has all the hallmarks of a cult follower. The ends justify the means and trust the party about sums it up.

        China has always been in a tough spot, just like the rest of the developing world, but on steroids — a victim of constant imperialist pressure and even occupation, massive resource issues, the downsides of certain kinds of freedom (i.e., population issues), conflicts with minorities, etc. We can hold that idea and judge them on a curve without having blind faith they have cracked the code and avoided the pitfalls of capital concentration, nationalism, xenophobia, tribalism, environmental limitations and so on…

  4. Feedback: Pang’s voice is muddled on this podcast. It makes it difficult to follow. (Scheer’s voice is crystal clear). This is not an uncommon occurrence. Is the problem that the interviewee is using a substandard microphone? If so, perhaps you could provide guests with equipment guidelines.

  5. First, I appreciate the comments above, especially the reference to prosperity gospel so I will investigate.
    Nalvany is purported to be a neo Nazi.
    By all means give these people voice but let’s not be ‘suckers & losers’

    My concern is w/ the title, “Human Cost of America’s Addiction to Cheap Goods.” Americans are force fed “cheap” goods, they don’t stock the shelves, corporations do. The same corporations who rewrote import laws and offshored US jobs..
    The insanity of consumer capitalism has horrific environmental cost as well as human costs.

  6. I have made a twitter thread with cited resources demonstrating Pang is with Epoch Times, the Falun Gong & Robert Mercer & US Alliance for Global Media (i.e. state dept. propaganda) funded extreme right-wing ‘news’ cite that supported trump and peddles conspiracy theories. Falun Gong is explicitly anti-China, is terribly racist, and otherwise crazy. I also link to The GrayZone’s reporting showing Xinjiang genocide claims are unfounded, and provide related resources. I tag Scheerpost and Chris Hedges and hope everyone will consider what’s there: TheNarrator000.

    Even well-intentioned leftists can find themselves susceptible to stories of noble victims struggling in distant lands our media constantly tells us is despotic (or as Scheer noted the old term: ‘inscrutable’). Even better when they cry for our help; we, the beacon on the hill with abundant moral stature from which to critique others…

    In this climate of a new cold war and growing (or newly licensed latent) Sinophobia, the left must be vigilant or we risk becoming de facto part of the problem.

    1. Thank you so much for this good reporting. I thought she was a troll, but I could never believe Robert Scheer would be snookered by Epoch Times! or is it Apoch Times?

      1. Did you know that Chris Hedges said her book was “moving and poweful”? That legendary China scholar Orville Schell called it “well-researched and reported.”?

        Mr. Scheer challenged Pang, as he does all his guests, many of whom he does not agree with on core issues.

        Certainly, I would not want to have Epoch Times on my resume. But I also don’t believe that we are supporting the phony “agenda-free” journalism the MSM always purports to present; the fact that she is biased against the Chinese government would hardly be a definitive proof that she has nothing to say.

        Is Human Rights Watch a credible organization in your eyes? Here is what they have to say about China’s treatement of its Muslim minority:

        https://www.hrw.org/tag/uyghurs

  7. With little effort I could easily find Amelia Pang is a person with a political agenda who has a significant history with Falun Gong, a fanatical right wing cult. At no time did the reputation of Falun Gong and Epoch times come up in this podcast. I am vastly disappointed in the fluff piece that the distinguished Mr. Scheer did here! You and you son did this with no push back?! I’ve been a long time listener and find this new direction very troubling.
    I wont be buying that book anytime soon!
    https://thegrayzone.com/2021/01/28/ny-times-uighur-china-genocide-falun-gong/

    1. [copypaste from response to Ted Tripp]

      Did you know that Chris Hedges said her book was “moving and poweful”? That legendary China scholar Orville Schell called it “well-researched and reported.”?

      Mr. Scheer challenged Pang, as he does all his guests, many of whom he does not agree with on core issues.

      Certainly, I would not want to have Epoch Times on my resume. But I also don’t believe that we are supporting the phony “agenda-free” journalism the MSM always purports to present; the fact that she is biased against the Chinese government would hardly be a definitive proof that she has nothing to say.

      Is Human Rights Watch a credible organization in your eyes? Here is what they have to say about China’s treatement of its Muslim minority:

      https://www.hrw.org/tag/uyghurs

      1. No human rights watch is not credible . Is the grayzone credible?
        Your homework was not done w Pang. I respect Chris Hedges and he will admit when he makes a mistake, time will tell. Does it not strike you as odd that the exploitation of Chinese workers is suddenly now a concern? Don’t really want answer your position is all I need to no longer take this podcast seriously.

      2. Please don’t blame the podcast for what you don’t like about my comments.

        I’m not Bob Scheer or affiliated with KCRW.

        Down here approving comments and joining the conversation.

      3. I am sure Ms Pang’s book is “well researched”, but that does not mean ‘fact-based’. There are many articles & reports that corroborate her notions, but that does not mean they are accurate or correct. Good propaganda runs deep, & Adrien Zenz is prolific, especially considering his funding & the source of that funding. The truth is that all effective political propaganda proceeds from a kernel of truth which is then distorted for political purposes. That there are ‘camps’ full of Uyghurs is not denied by anyone. That these camps are genocidal or nefarious is the distorted part.
        As for your question about Human Rights Watch, “NO”. I do not trust them as they tend to follow US government policy.

      4. Another piece of this puzzle is the illogical assumption that China would want to kill off, physically or culturally, a large segment of its population. Why would they do that?
        In the West when confronted by Islamist terrorism, we reacted by destroying, imprisoning, torturing vast numbers of Muslims domestically and internationally. It appears that we therefore think that China must be doing the same. So, is it guilt that now we want to “save the Uyghurs” from imagined depredations that we project onto China based on our own actions?

      5. These are not arguments but rather logical fallacies.

        First of all, Muslims are a tiny percentage of the Chinese population — 1/3 of one percent.

        Second, nobody credible is saying that this is a Nazi or Rwanda style attempt to actually physically eliminate an entire set of humans.

        We are talking about the usual playbook the world over: Repress, control, exclude, stigmatize, incarcerate, exploit, infiltrate, demand compliance.

        As for the guilt argument, whatever, man — maybe you feel guilty about the West’s historic abuse of China so you are here to be there apologist. I dunno.

        [THIS IS NOT BOB SCHEER]

      6. Editor, you confuse ‘logical’ arguments with syllogisms. I was not going to reply, but your non-arguments just seem too silly to ignore.
        I was speaking of beliefs.
        1) I do not believe Chinese or the Communist Party of China to be monsters. I base this on personal experience. Thus, it makes no sense to me that China would commit ‘genocide’, cultural or physical, on its citizens. As you seem to know, there are many minority peoples in China and it is not a Han monolith.
        2) Much of American/Western understanding of China is based not on knowledge, but on projecting onto China their own cultural experience. So, white superiority gets translated into Han superiority, US prison labor gets translated into Han slave Muslim labor. Crusader mentality against Muslims gets translated into Han Uyghur genocide.
        In this present climate of overt hostility towards China, events & facts get twisted to conform to a narrative detrimental to good international relations. You want to excuse yourself, it seems, but you propagate this narrative by allegiance to nuance and some weird ‘logic’. No one is claiming China has achieved the Utopian Heaven On Earth of Marxist communism, but it is very far ahead of the West in approaching this goal.

      7. “very far ahead of the West in approaching this goal.”

        By what measures? Income equality? Protein consumption? Suicide rates?

        “not a Han monolith” — China is 91 percent Han, far less racial/ethnic diversity than that of many major developed nations, and especially the US. It has been quite easy for the CCP displace peoples or destroy their cultures simply through economic and infrastructure projects, and especially by Han migration, that prioritized central or Han nationalist goals. Sinicization follows. Ask the Mongols, the Tibeten, Uyghurs.

        The notion that the CCP and/or China are immune to the normal consequences of core forces of nationalism, bureaucraticism, imperialism, capitalism, income inequality, a lack of counterbalancing civic organizations (unions, religions, NGOs), etc. does not ring true in logic or observation.

        Whether demonizing or celebrating particular nation-states, folks like to cherry-pick the comparisons. Much is made of the US incarceration rate as compared to those of (other) authoritarian regimes, neatly sidestepping the clearly racialized aspect of the prison industrial complex. Why not compare the incarceration rate of Uyghers vs African Americans, or the income equality of Tibetens vs Hans and that of Chicanos and Anglos? Oh, because the stats are not even available from China and journalists can’t investigate them.

        Good on you for holding on to the Communist dream, led by the vanguard playing three-dimensional chess, though. Gotta have faith in something in this effed up world.

      8. I read the book. In this thread I document how Pang is supported financially by the National Endowment for Democracy (CIA cutout), show her total bias towards Falun Gong, and provide several instances of deceptive use of her references, as well as some absurdity. She also repeats the known lies of Adrian Zenz regarding so-called ‘Uyghur genocide’. I hope everyone will look at this with an open mind as well as Dan Cohen’s brand new video about the Uyghur issue at Breakthrough News.

        Or continue with your decades-outdated anticommunist ‘left’ crusade.

        https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1370095432676696067.html

  8. First, just glancing at earlier comments, it seems that the dis-information war is in full swing. There are prejudices, special interests and each side calls the other a liar or a fraud. I find it ironic that dismissing Amelia’s warnings about Chinese work camps, people forget that the US has a highly efficient industrial prison system, where prisoners are not only cheap labor, but are imprisoned for profit by private companies. There’s even a term for this, the “school-to-prison” pipeline.

    There is great harm being done in the name of profit, as has been the case since the agricultural revolution, thousands of years ago. One thing I’ve observed about human nature, is that people at either end of the spectrum, weather altruistic or selfish, want a good life for themselves and/or their friends and families. My own circle uses goods created by exploitation of people and Nature, often without giving it a deep thought, because they are busy worrying about their own jobs, homes, bills, etc.

    Two key consequences of Robert’s interview stand out to me, in a broader context:

    *The cruelty, the harm that our society and its economic system, capitalism, commit, cannot escape consequence. Even though prisoner labor is being used because it is so cheap, AI and automation are set to takeover human labor entirely in the future. The use of technology to create profit will undermine the very system that motivated its creation, leading to different possibilities. Further, we are set on a course for ecocide, mostly due to climate change, but over-consumption, waste and pollution in general are factors.

    * Human nature, as mentioned above, allows this system to persist. The full spectrum of people want a good life, but most do not question the system that closely. Feedback effects, like climate change or full automation, have not had a big enough impact, yet, to dent this system. Human beings have evolved from scarcity, and post WWII generations (in the West) have been the first in history to experience affluence and plenty. Other species are bound by their instincts and natural limits, but our brains have let us break some of those limits, without having learned the wisdom or humility that early Native peoples understood.

  9. It’s more interesting to read the comments than the transcript. The American media loves to play “what aboutism” all over the planet, finding people to feel outraged about, while not doing anything about our political prisoners, such as Julian Assange, or people killed every day by police, while fretting about domestic terrorists. I’m assuming it is to distract everyone from something might be able to do something about right at home, rather torment ourselves about something of which we have no power, assuming these “guests” are not lying for a US foreign policy objective.

    One thing we could push for is to decriminalize marijuana and other narcotics, taking away the criminality and replacing it with treatment. This, however, would damage the Criminal Injustice Industry, as it would lose another reason to arrest people send them into slavery, or make them unemployable, all while having a cause for full lawyer and thug employment.

    Imagine, instead of employing more thugs and lawyers, we could employ social workers, therapists, and peer counselors. Naw, that would never happen in our “democracy”.

    Oregon is on the right path and needs to be emulated.

  10. I haven’t had such a strong feeling of dread as I have the past few months. The only other times and I have felt this way was when I saw the bombing of the Soviet Parliament cheered by the Clinton administration on live TV. And when my mother died when I was a teenager in the late 70’s and I saw five of my brothers and sisters fall into the cult of right wing Christian evangelicalism. Everything is being weaponized as never before. Since 2015 I can’t talk to many of my friends about politics who have fallen into the clutches of Clintonism. When I saw the agenda Bernie carried in 2015 rise, it was clear that it was due to the internet. The things he has been saying have been said my whole life but previously in the few paper pages of lefty magazines. It was clear at that time that the internet would need to be destroyed. Getting the Clintonites and now Justice Democrats to do it is brilliant. I have always thought that there would never be a dictatorship in this country unless progressives were lead to demand it. This seems to be where we are heading. Seeing them demand sanctions now on other countries is disheartening. When the wars come they may raise their voices against war but they will have played their part and their protestations (if there are any) will be ignored as usual…

  11. Several people on this thread, while admitting that Amelia Pang is a fraud, seem to cling to a kind of anti-China position. As I have said, China is no socialist utopia, but compared to the West, especially to the US, she is doing far better for ordinary people. This metric is based on one outstanding fact, that she has lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty (including Uyghurs), not to speak of her remarkable advances of infrastructure. That China does not ‘bend the knee’ to US hegemonic imperialism is also admirable. Finally, I am convinced that most criticism of China is based on projection, as if Western people cannot imagine that any people can behave differently than they have behaved currently and historically.

    1. You have restated your position without providing much argument.

      Let’s flip that around for you:

      Since breaking free from the hegemony of the globe-spanning British Empire, the United States has lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty (including many members of minority groups), not to speak of “her” remarkable advances of infrastructure. That the United States did not “bend the knee” to British, Spanish, French, German and Japanese hegemonic imperialism is also admirable.

      See? The United States of the past was headed to a capitalist/democratic utopia! What could have gone wrong?

      You have a faith and you are loyal to it. We all do. Mine is: Don’t trust power. Just own that and stop play psychologist to anonymous strangers.

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