On December 19, 2014, President Barack Obama took Sony Pictures to task for bowing to North Korean threats and withholding the release of the movie The Interview. Among other things, the President said:
We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they start seeing a documentary they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.
Or, even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.
Mr. Obama complained that Sony had not spoken with him before pulling The Interview, but such censoring is already taking place in the United States on a more insidious level, and it is perpetrated by a country of much greater importance: the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In order to see why, Americans need to understand China’s allure to U.S. corporations.
In October 2014, the PRC became the world’s biggest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), bumping the U.S. from that position for the first time since 1873. Since the beginning of economic reform in 1978, the PRC’s real per capita GDP has been growing at an average annual rate of 8 percent. Given this level of growth and a population of 1.4 billion people, it was only a matter of time before China passed the United States as the world’s overall largest economy.
On a per capita basis, China’s GDP is still well behind that of the United States ($6,807 vs. $53,143). China, however, achieved this milestone five years ahead of schedule, and the International Monetary Fund now estimates that before 2020, China’s economy will be 20 percent larger than that of the United States.
It is therefore to no one’s surprise that China presents an enticing allure to U.S. businesses. Two-way trade between these two countries amounted to $562.4 billion in 2013—almost 15 percent of America’s international trade. Only Canada, with whom the U.S. shares a 5,525-mile border, edges out China, but just barely, with a bilateral trade of $632 billion. The cliché that deodorant makers look at China and see “two billion armpits” is all too true.
This is the case not just for manufacturers, but for most trades, and America’s culture-making industries are not exempt. As business with China has taken off in the past few decades, there has been a surge in demand for learning about China. Universities and film studios, for example, today depend more than ever on Chinese money.