Last Monday, Off-Ramp host John Rabe interviewed Marketplace’s China correspondent Rob Schmitz at the Crawford Family Forum about the biggest story in Schmitz's career - Mike Daisey's false claims about Apple and Foxconn. Schmitz's discoveries led to This American Life's retraction of its Daisey episode.
Schmitz told the audience at the CFF, "I think that Mike Daisey, in some ways, has raised awareness about factory workers in factory conditions in China. I think that’s a good thing. He has not, though, raised understanding or improved understanding about this issue at all. He’s actually obfuscated a lot of things for people."
Schmitz doesn’t see China as the threatening country the media and politicians make it out to be because it is struggling to deal with its own problems. To understand China, from an economic standpoint, think of it as "at least three countries."
The First China is the one Daisey describes in his monologue: "That's the government. That's the state. That's the communist party," Schmitz says. It's also the state-owned enterprises that compete with the U.S. on an international scale, like Foxconn. "That's the China that we're scared of."
The Second China is Chinese consumers. Schmitz says, "this China, in many ways, loves America. They want to buy our products, they want to send their kids to our schools." Schmitz says this China is the one the U.S. can depend on for economic growth.
The Third China is the one that's left out of the media: the poor China. "There are 400-million people who live on less than two dollars a day in China," says Schmitz. And they hold the key to the country's future, "because if the Third China gets angry enough, the First China won't be around anymore."
Schmitz doesn't think China is trying to take over the world, but instead just wants to keep what it has. He says "I don't see this so-called Imperialist China happening anytime soon."