China Is No Paper Tiger


Without much fanfare, and without many people even being aware of it, in 2009, China overtook the U.S. as the world’s leading papermaker.  Moreover, they did it in much the same way that they became the world’s premiere manufacturing beast: with innovative engineering, a solid game plan, a vast reservoir of cheap labor, and massive government subsidies.

In this instance, it’s their “innovative engineering” that boggles the mind.  China has managed to develop a genetically altered hardwood eucalyptus tree (which begins its life in the lab as a tissue sample in a petri dish) that requires only four to six years to reach full height.  That’s roughly one-tenth the time it takes “natural” trees in North America (which, all will agree, are abundant) to reach maturity.  Eucalyptus is a favored furnish in papermaking because of its soft, low-coarse fiber.

Each year Chinese laboratories clone 190 million of these “test-tube” eucalyptus sprigs, which are planted on hundreds of thousands of acres spread over several Chinese provinces.  Wending Huang, Asia Pulp & Paper’s chief forester in China, calls these genetically altered trees, “Yao Mings” (referring to a famous and very tall Chinese basketball player).

Wisconsin is the leading papermaking state in the U.S.  Maine is second.  China can now produce in just three weeks what Wisconsin produces in one year.

But genetically engineered trees aren’t the whole story.  In addition to experimental woodlands, China has established itself as the world’s leading recycler of paper.  Indeed, its recycling, de-inking, re-pulping operation is staggering.  China buys about 54 billion pounds a year of scrap paper and cardboard from all over the world, and uses this recycled material to produce about two-thirds of its paper and cardboard (the cardboard in which it ships its manufactured goods all over the world).

The McClatchy News Service reports that China has 20 mega-sized paper mills spread across the country, and that the automated paper machines in these state-of-the-art facilities are capable of producing sixty miles of glossy publishing-grade paper per hour.  That’s a mile a minute—5,280 feet per minute (fpm) of glossy, high-quality base sheet.  That’s very impressive.

Not to give away any trade secrets here, but Kimberly-Clark’s CW Machine #1, in California, produces a 172-inch wide sheet, at 4,600 fpm, which is a very respectable speed for a “vintage” machine that cranks out paper 24 hours a day, 360 days a year.  But Machine #1’s wadding is used exclusively for facial tissue, bath tissue, and paper towels.  A glossy, “publishing-grade” sheet is a whole other deal.

It should be noted that China is still required to import the overwhelming majority of its virgin timber and processed (chemically treated) pulp.  It gets its timber from all over the world (e.g., Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam, Brazil).  In 2011 alone, it imported 14.5 million tons of it (29 billion pounds), l.6 million tons of which came from the U.S., where sawmills, logging and pulp operations have closed down, leaving timber businesses looking for new customers.

While environmental groups have objected to China’s aggressive demand for wood pulp, claiming that it’s destroying the world’s forests, American companies and Wisconsin politicians have their own reasons to complain.  They accuse the Chinese government of illegally subsidizing the country’s paper mills by “dumping” unfairly priced (too cheap to compete with) paper on the American market.  In the 1970s and early ‘80s, Japan was accused of the same practice with its cars.

According to McClatchey News, “the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute estimates the Chinese government doled out at least $33 billion in subsidies to its paper industry from 2002 to 2009—the period that coincides with its stunning growth. That’s more than $4 billion a year, and the number is growing.”

So what we have are American paper mills being squeezed out not only by foreign competitors but by foreign competitors who are being subsidized by their governments.  It must be nice having a government as your business partner and benefactor.  One of the advantages that immediately comes to mind is that they can continue printing money for you, even after you’ve run out of your own.

Consider the American space program.  What if there had been no NASA—no federal space agency?  What if, instead of NASA, we had half a dozen private companies, financed by private investors, trying to put a man on the moon?  Forget about it.  You wouldn’t even have a space program in 1969 without the government.  Which is why the Chinese government chose to “sponsor” its emerging paper industry.

The third complaint—along with environmental degradation and illegal “dumping”—is reserved for labor unions.  Predictably, paper companies blame the unions for wanting decent wages and benefits.  Attacking working people—those at the very bottom—should come as no surprise.  It’s an example of Newton’s First Law of Fecal Gravitation (i.e., shit rolls downhill).

David Macaray a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition), was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving