The Latest NYT’s Hit Piece on China Is from Thomas Friedman

Thanks to Thomas Friedman’s relentless service as a mouthpiece for US empire and capital, he’s permitted to continuously churn out his pseudo-thought piece every week.

— Belen Fernandez, The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work

Thomas Friedman, a self-professed “liberal,” is the New York Times most widely read columnist and its most influential flak for corporate interests at home and abroad. He exhibits all the self-assumed hubris of American elites.

Friedman’s latest piece is “America, China and a Crisis of Trust” (NY Times 4/14/23). Wading through his vacuous, self-serving prose, smug certainties, side-tracking anecdotes and off-putting verbosity is a chore but in essence, here is his message boiled down to a few sentences:

Deng Xiaoping turned the “naturally capitalist” (a bizarre assertion)  China away from Mao around 1978-79 when he opened the country to foreign investment and ownership. But after Xi Jinping became president, the role of the Communist Party was reconstituted and China undertook the next stage adopting a hybrid system emphasizing state-directed investment, especially toward small and medium size domestic companies. According to Friedman, because of this “U-turn,”and moving away from “our shared values,” (again, bizarre) China gradually lost the “trust” of the United States, hence the escalating “crisis” in Sino-U.S. relations. Thus, unless Beijing makes a major course correction, China will never realize its potential. In Friedman’s words, “China has failed both the world and their own innovators at precisely the wrong time.”

Friedman’s ideological blinders prevent him from seeing Deng’s period as a necessary and much misunderstood capital accumulation stage on the country’s “road to socialism with Chinese characteristics,” a step toward achieving Mao’s dream of “common prosperity” that dates back to the early 1950s. Xi reprioritized socialism, began rooting out corruption, declared that the new era is now underway and pledged that by 2035 solid progress will be evident.

Of course, what really vexes Friedman and those of his ilk is that China has chosen a path to development that’s not on Washington’s approved list. It follows that the US ruling class will continue to make every effort to prevent this 21st century “threat of good example” from coming to fruition. Because of this, the essential conflict is not about “trust” but the fundamental one between capitalism and socialism.

It’s tempting to suggest that Friedman is simply being disingenuous but that would be wrong. Like many other members of the elite class that Friedman represents, he actually believes all this silliness and has been peddling on the op/ed pages of the Times since 1995. And there’s no question that for a certain segment of the population Friedman continues as an effective propaganda tool for the U.S. national security state. Glancing at the hundreds of online comments by readers we find mostly effusive praise for Friedman’s position along with strident demonization of China.

This is not unexpected, because, as retired University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen once observed, “Friedman tells the privileged, and those who aspire to privilege, what they want to hear in a way that makes them feel smart.” In this case, Friedman is telling them that China is their penultimate enemy but we know the real threat to the security of the American people is from powerful interests within our own borders.

Gary Olson is Professor Emeritus at Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA. Contact: Per usual, thanks to Kathleen Kelly, my in-house ed. Read other articles by Gary.