Director Peter W. Navarro wrote the book on the consequences of the trade imbalance between the United States and China.
Literally. The documentary ''Death by China'' is a companion piece to ''Death by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Call to Arms,'' which Navarro, a business professor at the University of California-Irvine, co-wrote with Greg Autry.
In painstaking detail, it lays out what has happened since China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001.
Perhaps the most shocking figure is that 57,000 U.S. factories have closed in the last decade. That's not jobs; that's factories. Certainly not all of them can be blamed on China, but the movie argues that China has created its manufacturing advantage through a combination of environmental neglect, worker abuses, currency manipulation, counterfeiting/piracy and illegal export subsidies.
The United States makes no cell phones. It can't build a military airplane without parts from China, a potential adversary.
The lack of electronics made in the U.S. shouldn't surprise anyone who pays attention to labels. But the movie also claims that 85 percent of the tilapia sold in the U.S. is farm-raised in China. Considering it's environmental record, that's an unappetizing revelation.
WHAT: ''Death by China''
STARS: Narrated by Martin Sheen
STORYLINE: The movie argues that China has created its manufacturing advantage through a combination of environmental neglect, worker abuses, currency manipulation, counterfeiting/piracy and illegal export subsidies and that U.S. economic recovery is unlikely as long as it continues.
DIRECTOR: Peter W. Navarro
RATING: Not rated
WHERE: ''Death By China'' opens Friday at Regal Austintown Plaza 10, 6020 Mahoning Ave. It also will be screened at 7 p.m. Friday at Ford Family Recital Hall, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown. It will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Director Peter W. Navarro, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, and others. Admission for the Youngstown screening is free, but seating is limited and tickets are available at the DeYor Performing Arts Center box office and by calling 330-744-0264.
Navarro interviews economists, business owners and politicians (including U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles) who argue that a U.S. economic recovery is unlikely as long as this trade imbalance exists.
However, ''Death by China'' is all prosecution, no defense. If an effort was made to talk to anyone who would dispute the film's characterization of China's trade practices and their impact, there is no evidence of it in the final cut. The only business representatives interviewed are those who've been hurt by Chinese practices or abandoned working there.
Also, the first half of the movie has such a strong tone of impending doom that the potential solutions offered at the end seem toothless. I can ''Buy American'' by avoiding foreign tilapia, but adhering to that philosophy means no cell phone, microwave or shoes. And saying that China must be held accountable for its trade practices is easier said than done.
One thing that might have helped Navarro's film reach a greater, more receptive audience is if he'd picked someone else to make its argument.
About 95 percent of the information presented here could receive rank-and-file, bipartisan support, whether one is a Tea Party conservative or a Think Progress liberal. Creating a level playing field for American companies, being able to build the things the country needs for its national defense, making sure imported foods and products meet the same health and safety standards that we expect from domestic suppliers are goals nearly everyone would embrace, even if there may be disagreements on how to achieve it.
This may be the only time anyone will see local Democrat Ryan and California conservative Dana Rohrabacher argue on the same side of an issue. And while the movie takes both Republican and Democrat elected officials to task, probably the sharpest criticism is leveled at President Bill Clinton, who lobbied hard for China's admission into the WTO at the end of his second term.
However, ''Death by China'' is narrated by Martin Sheen. His voiceover delivers the sense of urgency that Navarro clearly wants, but he also is linked strongly with progressive causes. I know people who won't watch his movies because of his politics.
A more-neutral narrator might make it harder for some to dismiss Navarro's arguments as anti-business and protectionist.