China Law Blog on Shaun Rein

I’ve written about Forbes columnist and China-based marketer Shaun Rein before, notably here, here and here. All I tried to do in these posts was to throw his own words back at him to show why I disagree with him so strongly. My approach may have been “colorful,” but I tried to be fair. In the last of those links I don’t even say a single word about what Rein wrote: I let his own column speak for itself so readers can draw their own conclusions.

A perennial supporter of all things CCP who states as fact that real poverty in China has been wiped out, that the Chinese people are happy, that Google declared war on China, that Deng should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, that China is like a teenage boy clumsily flexing its muscles (and must therefore be given lots of space to grow and develop), Rein has, I admit, irritated me no end. Nothing is ever China’s fault or responsibility. All blame for China’s problems get pinned on “the West” (read the US), and any attempt to call China to account, be it on its currency manipulation or lack of response to IP violations, seems to make him bristle. He is unfailingly hostile to any in the West who have the temerity to criticize China. He frequently uses straw men, along the lines of “Many in the West say…” He also, without fail, promotes his own marketing company in just about every column he writes, whether it’s for Forbes or CNBC or Seeking Alpha and often seems to slip in self-promoting nuggets (“Many of my classmates from Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences have been actively recruited…”). It’s okay to promote your company sometimes, and it’s okay to remind people you went to a Harvard grad school and that you go fishing with high-ranking CCP officials, but must it be so often and so blatant?

I could write an exhaustive analysis and prove these things point by point, but luckily Dan Harris of China Law Blog has done it for me. In a painstakingly detailed but typically professional post, Dan goes through a recent Rein column line by line to make the point that Rein “categorizes all those who disagree with him as spewing ‘rhetoric,’ and implying that the only reasons for their doing so are political.” He also points out the typical Rein straw man (“[m]any attribute China’s boom as a result of stealing American jobs and intellectual property, rather than efficient economic policies and hard work ethic”] and then goes on to two of Rein’s most annoying devices, (1) insisting that everyone who criticizes China is wrong while he and he alone is right, and (2) using dubious statistics from his marketing company to draw conclusions that are questionable at best.

Mr. Rein then suggests how it is that he is right and America’s Commerce Secretary and its leading investors and economists are all wrong:

In fact, more than 70 percent of big American multinationals operating in China told my firm they did not want the renminbi to appreciate too much because it will cut into their profits. The majority also said they would increase costs to the American consumer or move to cheaper production areas if it rose.

What does Mr. Rein even mean when he says “more than 70 percent of big American multinationals operating in China told his firm” of their views? What constitutes a “big American multinational operating in China? Something like 80 percent or more of the Fortune 1000 operate in China. Did Mr. Rein really hear from all 800 of these? Who at these big multinationals was doing the talking? I very much doubt it was the CEOs, so who? What led these “big American multinationals” to reveal these views to Mr. Rein’s firm? Were the “big American multinationals” really asked if they wanted the renminbi to appreciate “too much”? Does not the phrase “too much” itself have negative implications? If someone were to ask me whether I wanted the renminbi to appreciate “too much,” I would say, “no, I do not want it to appreciate ‘too much,’ I want it to appreciate just ‘the right amount’ and no more.”

Mr. Rein’s claim that the majority of these “big American multinationals” said “they would increase costs to the American consumer or move to cheaper production areas if it [the renminbi] rose” also means nothing. Is Mr. Rein saying that the majority of these “big American multinationals” would increase costs to the American consumer if the renminbi were to increase by .0001%? Or is Mr. Rein saying that the majority of these “big American multinationals” would increase costs to the American consumer if the renminbi were to rise “too much”? Without a specific percentage rise in the renminbi as a reference point, the views Mr. Rein attributes to these “big American multinationals” are extremely vague.

…I am also troubled by Mr. Rein’s final sentence, which seems to say that because “China has played a critical role in helping the world’s economy recover from the financial crisis and is making great strides in protecting intellectual property and promoting more gender equality,” anyone who expresses disapproval of Chinese policy is “ill-informed.” I too am impressed by what China has accomplished, but I would never claim it is above criticism or that those who criticize it are “angry,” “ill-informed,” or “strikingly wrong.”

This is a long, detail-rich post and I encourage all of you to read the whole thing.

Already on Twitter Rein is showing his usual maturity and professionalism:

Shaun Rein
Not sure why Dan Harris seems so mad at me personally. Criticisms seems more personal than rationale [SIC]. Maybe his business is slow.

This, of course, is what he did with me, crying out that I was unprofessional and was personally attacking him. Shaun, these are your words, it’s what you said, it’s what you always say, and it’s why bloggers like Dan, FOARP, Modern Lei Feng and me have called you to the carpet. I don’t know who you are, I have nothing against you, and I even have said that when you write about marketing in China your columns can be quite good. It’s when you step out of your area of expertise and wag your finger at Google or the US Secretary of Commerce that you leave yourself vulnerable to criticism. And you never seem to learn. Same old same old. (And to readers who haven’t read FOARP’s excellent deconstruction of a recent Rein column, please go there now. Same with Modern Lei Feng’s post.) Shaun, don’t you wonder why so many commenters and bloggers make the same criticisms of your columns over and over and over again? Are we always wrong, while you are always right?

I want to thank Dan Harris for taking the risk to stand up to Rein and call him to account. This is what good blogging is all about. Just be prepared for Rein to bad-mouth you and call you unprofessional. Pot, kettle….


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

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