The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Senator livid that presidential statues at Smithsonian are made in China

The gifts shops in federal buildings all over Washington sell patriotic U.S. gear that is gobbled up by the millions of tourists who visit the nation’s capital each year. But upon discovering that most of the goods are made in China, a U.S. senator lambasted the Smithsonian for outsourcing its Americana. On the same day ...

558968_statues22_02.jpg
558968_statues22_02.jpg

The gifts shops in federal buildings all over Washington sell patriotic U.S. gear that is gobbled up by the millions of tourists who visit the nation's capital each year. But upon discovering that most of the goods are made in China, a U.S. senator lambasted the Smithsonian for outsourcing its Americana.

On the same day as Obama's meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a letter he sent to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History calling the practice of buying U.S. president statues from China both "extraordinary" and "pretty pathetic." The museum sells all sort of trinkets produced in China, including busts of U.S. presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama.

"It appears that a museum owned by the people of the United States, celebrating the history of the United States, cannot find companies in this country employing American workers that are able to manufacture statues of our founding fathers, or our current president," Sanders wrote in a letter to Brent Glass, the history museum director. "That is pretty pathetic! I was not aware that the collapse of our manufacturing base had gone that far."

The gifts shops in federal buildings all over Washington sell patriotic U.S. gear that is gobbled up by the millions of tourists who visit the nation’s capital each year. But upon discovering that most of the goods are made in China, a U.S. senator lambasted the Smithsonian for outsourcing its Americana.

On the same day as Obama’s meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a letter he sent to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History calling the practice of buying U.S. president statues from China both "extraordinary" and "pretty pathetic." The museum sells all sort of trinkets produced in China, including busts of U.S. presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama.

"It appears that a museum owned by the people of the United States, celebrating the history of the United States, cannot find companies in this country employing American workers that are able to manufacture statues of our founding fathers, or our current president," Sanders wrote in a letter to Brent Glass, the history museum director. "That is pretty pathetic! I was not aware that the collapse of our manufacturing base had gone that far."

Sanders then urged the museum "to do its very best to find American companies to manufacture the products that it sells." He didn’t have any recommendations as to which American companies might be interested in producing small presidential statues at prices competitive with China.

Sanders even posted pictures of the statues on his website.

ABC News, which first reported the letter, actually got a response from Glass, the director of the National Museum of American History, who said, "We do whenever possible try to buy from U.S.-made manufacturers and we contract primarily with companies that are based in the U.S…. But a lot of distributors carry products made domestically and internationally. We try to offer items to the public that are affordable and many of those products come from other countries, not only China."

While Sanders only recently became aware that federal buildings have gift shops full of Chinese-made swag, The Cable has been following this story for some time. Last June, we reported that all the flag pins sold at the State Department gift shops are made in China as well. 

The Chinese don’t seem to have issues making pins that contradict China’s foreign or domestic policy. Your humble Cable guy has a whole collection of Chinese-made flag pins, including ones that feature the U.S. flag next to the flags of Taiwan, Tibet, North Korea, Cuba, and Iran. We donned the Chinese-made U.S.-North Korea flag pin at Wednesday’s arrival ceremony for Hu at the White House. As for the symbolism of that, you decide…

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.