IN Puerto Rico, there is a shop called Olé on 105 Fortaleza Street, Old San Juan that sells only local and Latin American products ranging from ornaments and artwork to footwear. Many are quality, eco-friendly and handmade products. At the entrance to the shop is a bright red poster: "We do not carry items made in China."
Visitors from China would love to shop for souvenirs at this outlet. Often, they are at their wits' end trying to avoid bringing back "made in China" items. Indeed, this is a global experience, especially during major events such as the Olympics that opened this week.
For example, the United States Olympic Committee has been plagued with controversies about its "made in China" garments specially tailored for the US team. The US Congress is unhappy about these "made in China" items. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has been quoted as saying: "I think the (US) Olympic Committee should be ashamed of themselves." He even suggested the garments be burnt!
Many do not understand what all the fuss is about. If all along, others can wear US-made garments for all sorts of activities, including the Olympics, why the double standards for Americans? China's official news agency aptly termed this as "hypocritical" and "irresponsible".
Is it a case of jingoism -- commonly understood as "extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy" -- as some are suggesting? After all, outside the Olympics, Americans cannot live with just US made stuff, given the ubiquitous nature of things Chinese. And it is not just limited to "things".
Take the increasing numbers of Chinese-born permanent residents and professionals who are contributing to the US economy and institutions. Are they not, figuratively speaking, "made in China"? How about those involved in US sports, such as the National Basketball Association for example? In other words, if they can sweat it out for the good of the US, and no one seems to complain, not least the Congress, why should Chinese-made US Olympic garments be different?
Several nations have had their Olympics team uniforms made in China. The Australian Olympic Committee, for one, has admitted this, citing that it was not financially possible any more to have outfits made Down Under.
So is US jingoism coming into play at the Olympics as well?
There is another form of "jingoism" and hypocrisy unfolding in the US. Apple Store employees in the US have apparently refused to sell iPhones and iPads to Persian-speaking customers. As broadcast by a US TV station, Sarah Sabet, a 19-year-old student at the University of Georgia, was reportedly "discriminated" at an Apple Store when buying devices with a friend. She claimed that she has been racially profiled because she was overheard speaking Farsi despite being an Iranian-American.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case of bigotry according to an editorial in the International Herald Tribune (July 13). Never mind if such devices are made in China and there is a controversy brewing which implicates exploitation of the Chinese workforce.
As late as May this year, questions on working conditions at a plant that manufactures iPhones and iPad are still being raised. Deaths and suicides too have caused concern among the Chinese officials. Without naming specific companies, Chinese Labour Minister Yin Weimin has recognised that problems exist at some companies due to excessive overtime, low pay and a lack of concern for workers.
Yet, the British Broadcasting Corporation announced last week that its runners for the mobile Olympic 2012 team will be fielding an Apple iOS and an Android application. This will make the Americans happier, regardless of whether they are made in China or not.
Meanwhile there are moves by a group of US senators to legislate for the ceremonial uniforms to be produced in America. The Olympics originated from ancient Greece, but it could well be Jingo-lympic made-in-USA!