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Q&A: Peter Navarro on America's Death by China

Workers on a production line at a toy factory in China
Workers on a production line at a toy factory in ChinaPhotograph by AFP/Getty

Bloomberg Businessweek speaks with Peter Navarro, a business professor at the University of California, Irvine, about his new documentary Death By China. The film, based on the eponymous book he co-authored with Greg Autry in 2011, opened in Los Angeles on Aug. 17 and comes to New York on Aug. 24. Reviews have described it as “a lucid wake-up call” and criticized it for being “heavy handed” and containing “xenophobic hysteria.” Navarro reponds, “The film accurately depicts the devastation China’s unfair trade practices are having on Americans. Critics giving bad reviews should get out into the heartland of America more. Viewers are deeply moved by the film if our L.A. opening is any indicator.”

Poster for the movie 'Death By China'
Death By China. That’s a pretty grim prognosis. Is China killing us?
We’re billing this as the feel-good movie of the year. [Laughs.] There’s nothing subtle about what’s happening. It’s an economic death because of China’s unfair trade practices and the loss of the U.S. manufacturing base. Also, literal death because of the loss of consumer safety: toothpaste, baby formula, a dizzying array of products. There are also human rights abuses—China’s forced labor camps. There’s a chilling discovery in the film about how people are being taken out of labor camps and their organs are harvested. Also, the military buildup of China. It’s an evocative title, yes, and it has multiple meanings.

Is it about declining U.S. dominance?
That would be jingoistic. It doesn’t matter to me who’s the most powerful or profitable country in the world. All countries want to be prosperous. What’s happening is a zero-sum game between China and the U.S. where their gain is our loss. It’s about the fact that we don’t make things any more, that we lost our manufacturing base, the 25 million people who can’t find a decent job in this country, the zero wage growth. I want consumers to connect the dots, to go to any store and look at the label and connect the dots between buying cheap China products, which is better for the wallet, and all the other things we lose, like jobs.