Steve Bannon grew wealthy from his role as an investor in Seinfeld. Mr Bannon’s latest production is not aiming for laughs.
Claws of the Red Dragon is a ripped-from-the-headlines drama about a world-conquering Chinese technology company thrust into a geopolitical crisis after the daughter of its founder is arrested in Canada for violating US sanctions on Iran. In other words, it is an America First take on the ongoing saga of Huawei Technologies and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.
It premieres on Saturday on the rightwing One America News Network and then, its backers hope, will become a grassroots sensation that helps to stiffen President Trump’s spine in tense trade negotiations with China.
At a private screening in Manhattan this week, a beaming Mr Bannon described an audience of friends and ideological fellow travellers as “a collection of hawks and super-hawks”.
He relished the irony that they were occupying a private theatre on Park Avenue that once belonged to the Walt Disney Company since “there’s probably no company in American that has done more kowtowing to the Chinese Communist party than Disney”.
The 50-minute film was produced by a Canadian company, New Tang Dynasty, on a shoestring budget of less than $1m. Mr Bannon signed on as executive producer as part of his broader campaign since leaving the White House two years ago to rally the west against China’s communist government — but, he insists, not its people.
“The Chinese people are the most decent, hard-working people on earth,” he reminded the audience.
As dramatic fare, Claws of the Red Dragon (“a very subtle title”, Mr Bannon quipped) will be especially satisfying for trade wonks. At long last, they can hear their debates about foreign investment, forced technology transfers and the future of 5G put into the mouths of an attractive cast.
China-bashers will take particular delight at a scene featuring Xianzhou, the entitled daughter, who calls daddy from a Canadian jail cell where she is clad in an orange jumpsuit and fellow inmates have no idea they are among a near-deity. “They think I am some refugee or prostitute!” she snaps.
There is also the moment when a Communist Party boss — whose offices tend to be dimly lit lairs — instructs the head of Huaxing Hi-Tech, the fictionalised Huawei, to repeat the lie to the world’s media that his company has no ties to the party.
At the centre of the drama is a Canadian journalist of Chinese origin and her partner, a pretty boy who works in public relations for Huaxing in Vancouver. One of them is committed to upholding the truth while the other is willing to barter it away for the promise of a raise and a nicer apartment.
After the show and a round of applause, Mr Bannon explained his view that technology was more urgent than trade when it came to thwarting Beijing’s plans for dominance.
“It’s 10 times more important to shut down Huawei in the US than to do a trade deal,” he argued.
He broke with President Donald Trump to praise the decency of the US bureaucracy for pursuing the case against Huawei when it might have been politically expedient to drop it. “I don’t want to hear the term ‘deep state’ any more,” Mr Bannon said. “That’s a lazy concept, for lazy people.”
With an election on the horizon and Mr Trump’s administration in turmoil from a growing Ukraine scandal, one might imagine Mr Bannon would be downcast about the chances of maintaining a hardline China policy. Far from it. “We’re winning!” he crowed.
As evidence, he noted that Elizabeth Warren and other leading Democrats were moving to the right even of Mr Trump on trade policy. “In a country that’s so divided,” he said, “the thing that pulls it together is China.”
With Claws of the Red Dragon, he hopes, it may soon become more united still.