Donald Trump makes his first visit to China having frequently accused his hosts of stealing U.S. jobs. But Chinese companies are creating them all over the U.S. and often in states that voted for Trump. So how do those companies navigate the rhetoric?
CGTN’s Owen Fairclough reports from the U.S. state of Tennessee.
The live band belts out Dolly Parton’s classic chorus “Workin’ 9 to 5” as tourists enjoy happy hour drinks at Legend’s bar on Broadway, the strip that made Nashville world famous as country music’s home.
And a short drive away, China is quietly challenging perceptions about where jobs are created and lost in the global economy.
American Wonder Porcelain is the first Chinese owned ceramics factory in the U.S., turning out 10,000 square meters of tiles every day.
Chief Finance Officer Charles Huang explains the decision to open up in Tennessee, “The customer is actually looking for Made in the USA whether it’s a residential customer or commercial customer they all want Made in the USA.”
American Wonder Porcelain brings raw materials from North Carolina to make tiles that are painted in a digital printer before they’re fired in a 200m long Italian kiln.
It’s a vast space – the size of around 10 football pitches – and seemingly empty save for staff occasionally zipping by on bicycles and robot delivery carts straight out of Star Wars.
Technology means the company can run this operation with ten times less employees than they’d need in China.
But if labor costs there are lower, Wonder Porcelain can make big savings by manufacturing in its U.S. market instead of shipping thousands of miles away in China.
It’s also created 150 jobs with recruitment underway for 70 more.
And yet Charles admits it hurts to hear President Donald Trump accuse his native China of stealing jobs, “We’re not stealing. I mean, it’s globalization. I can see other countries – their labour costs are going up so I think it’s a very good time for the USA to bring jobs back.”
Local employees caught in this debate over protectionism versus open trade don’t seem to mind.
Joe Dillard used to work for Japanese owned Nissan. He says, “They brought it here for us to give us a job. We have the American flag on our tiles. I’m proud to run this. It takes a team to run this. We’re all paying our bills, we hope, you know?”
This isn’t the only Chinese owned manufacturer in Tennessee.
A 30 minute drive away Sinomax recently set up its first U.S. factory to turn out foam products such as mattress toppers and pillows.
Surveying the assembly line where women pour foam into cotton wraps before stitching the ends to make pillows, Chief Executive Frank Chen also tries to tune out the politics as he aims to add another 150 staff to the 200 already hired, adding, “We’re coming here to create jobs. We’re not stealing jobs. Look at the employees – they’re all Americans.”
That sentiment is shared on the shop floor where electronics giant Whirlpool once stored goods before moving to Mexico – another flashpoint in the protectionism debate.
Materials Handler driver Deron Arnold says: “China actually employs people in Tennessee so that means they employ America.”
Back at American Wonder Porcelain, an expansion is underway. A special nearby railway spur under completion will help the company transport materials and products coast to coast.
And if China – U.S. trade relations can be fiery, this company prefers to focus its heat on the trading opportunities generated by its 1250 centigrade (2282 F) oven.