Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Me Chinese, Me Play Joke...

Are China's new Huns wearing three-piece suits and natty tie pins? I keep reading about the potential Chinese takeover of important U.S. companies such as Unocal. At least the media thinks they're important, whereas my first reaction was, "What's Unocal?" Does it sell eyeglasses? Cell phone service? The card game UNO? Could it be the brand name of yet another entry into the crowded field of one-calories colas, perhaps aimed at the hispanic market? Maybe it's like Enron, where it sells nothing at incredibly inflated prices. Turns out, it's an OIL COMPANY. Well that's clever! Instead of picking fights over Persian pipelines or jockeying for the best-disguised military base in the Middle East (slap a drive-through window on it and call it McTabbouleh's), the Chinese have decided to strategically outflank us. And that's not an easy thing to do, because Americans have some of the most massive flanks on earth. Why bother to negotiate, drill for oil or threaten aggression when you can simply purchase a controlling interest in a U.S. oil company? You see, China has lots of U.S. dollars. We have been shipping boatloads of greenbacks overseas for years, probably in foreign-made boats. All in exchange for potholders, toys, futons and whatever else you can grab in Wal-mart's well traveled aisles. All that cash ultimately doesn't do the Chinese much good unless they spend it. Which they now seem increasingly inclined to do. Perhaps because they sense that confidence in the U.S. dollar is based more on our national self esteem than any real value. Two decades ago the Japanese were Kings, er, Emperors of the Hill, exporting Toyotas so fast that we decided to allow them to build manufacturing plants here. Thus convincing ourselves that Japanese autos are somehow as American as Car Key Lime Pie. They proceeded to buy a few movie studios, gave Godzilla a tummy tuck and better special effects, and slapped their names on the deed to the Rockefeller Center. However they did not rename it the SONYCenter. Basically they left Exxon and the New York Yankees alone. (except for Hidecki Matsui, who owns left field.) But this time around the Chinese seem to hold not only all the cards, but all the chips as well. And we aren't going to get very far in a game of Texas Hold 'Em if we don't come to the table with any resources or resolve. What's to stop them from buying anything they want? And what if they suddenly stopped selling us stuff? After twisting my neck into an awkward position and checking the tags on my clothes, I suspect we're only a couple of high spin washer and dryer cycles away from complete National Nudity if the Chinese decide to stop sending us the goods. The shortage of cheap plastic crap would be incalculable. We would soon be reduced to buying well-made expensive things that last a long time. Oh, the indignity! Also, I'm sort of wondering how our companies would fit into their system, being communist and all. Would Unocal and Maytag become instruments of the state? Would Chinese citizens have to wait in long lines to gas up their cars and buy dishwashers? Would we? Do the Chinese even use dishwashers? Even though China is a rapidly industrializing nation, I still picture the China evoked in Pearl S. Buck's novel "The Good Earth," with Wang Lung astride his fields. Then again, I'm always shocked when I see footage of cars in India when the Indelible Portion of my brain insists everyone there has an elephant parked out front. So if China buys up all our real estate and major companies, do Americans still own America? Has one nation ever taken over another buy simply purchasing it outright? And if we suddenly decide we don't want to sell, what happens to the trillions in debt owed by our government? Can the Chinese conquer us just by showing up at the international auction and paying the back taxes? Perhaps this is China's way of informing us that they've gone pee pee in our Coke.

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