Richard McGregor is the former Washington and Beijing bureau chief of the Financial Times, and a notable writer on Chinese politics. His last book was The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. His new book, Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century, tells the story of the triangle of the three most important powers in East Asia, none of which can be fully understood without some knowledge of the other two.
Richard talked with Jeremy and Kaiser about the events and issues that have impacted relations between China, Japan, and the U.S. since World War II. These include: how the U.S. blindsided Japan by acknowledging Beijing as the Chinese capital with only a few hours of notice in 1971; how Japan’s leaders have refused to grapple with the reality of comfort women during the war; and how China’s leaders and media have comfortably settled into using anti-Japanese sentiment as a convenient political tool.
Richard: The Invention of Russia: The Rise of Putin and the Age of Fake News, a book by journalist Arkady Ostrovsky, who has written for the Economist and the Financial Times. And Fauda, an Israeli TV series about the Israeli Special Forces and Hamas.
Jeremy: The Twitter feed of Jorge Guajardo, former Mexican ambassador to China.
Kaiser: The works of Alan Furst, specifically, his book Dark Star, which unpacks the mentality of the purge of the mid-1930s in Russia.
North Korea is a mystery to nearly everyone — even those who have dedicated their lives to studying the country — including Korean experts based in Seoul, national security experts in Washington or Beijing, and a variety of foreigners who have spent extended periods studying in or reporting from the North. There is great uncertainty about what the country’s leaders really think of China, how self-sufficient the North’s economy actually is, and even the background of the “respected” leader, Kim Jong-un, beyond a few seemingly random details (he studied in Switzerland and likes basketball and Whitney Houston, for example).
Evan Osnos — former Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker and now the magazine’s correspondent in the currently far more unpredictable capital of the U.S. — recently travelled to the Hermit Kingdom and reported an extensive cover piece for that magazine: “The risk of nuclear war with North Korea.”
What are the prospects for war and peace in northeast Asia? Evan talked with Jeremy and Kaiser about his conversations with North Korean, Chinese, and U.S. government officials and people involved in the complicated regional powerplay.
Jeremy: Jeeves & Wooster, a comedy TV series adapted from the P.G. Wodehouse books about a gormless English aristocrat and his very bright butler, played by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, respectively. It’s “really a wonderful escapist pleasure [for] when you don’t feel like thinking about Donald Trump and North Korea,” Jeremy adds.
Evan: The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, a book by Blaine Harden that explains how North Koreans think about the Korean war — an essential piece of the current conundrum we all face.
Kaiser: China in Disintegration, by James Sheridan, a narrative history of the Republican Era (1912-1949) in China. Events during the period such as the Republican Revolution and the May Fourth Movement are key to understanding modern China.
Michael Bristow was stationed in Beijing as the Asia Pacific editor for the BBC World Service from 2005 to 2013. He has written a book called China in Drag: Travels with a Cross-Dresser, in which he recounts his time in China — his travels, his reporting, and his myriad experiences — through the prism of his relationship with his Chinese teacher.
The Teacher — who insisted on anonymity — is a Beijinger. He’s a thoughtful and educated man, and also a transvestite. Yet his transvestism is just one aspect of a many-faceted individual whose life has mirrored incredible changes in Chinese society since the Cultural Revolution. On this episode, we talk to Michael about his teacher, and what he learned about China — and about cross-dressing — while traveling through the country with this fascinating man.
Jeremy: The Mala Market, where you can get fresh Sichuanese ingredients shipped straight to your door (in the U.S.), and the accompanying blog called Mala Project — not to be confused with the New York City restaurant of the same name, which Jeremy has previously recommended. Also, the BBC’s new West African news service in Pidgin, a form of English common in West Africa, something completely original to the BBC.
Michael: The book A Whole Life, by Austrian author Robert Seethaler. It’s about an ordinary guy who lives in a valley in the Alps in Austria. Almost nothing noteworthy happens to this guy, but he’s lived a full and rich life nonetheless.
Kaiser: 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones, affordable and excellent in-ear monitors that sound infinitely better than what you’re probably using now.
Adam Segal is the Ira A. Lipman Chair in Emerging Technologies and National Security and director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. You may remember him from an episode of Sinica last year, when he discussed his excellent book The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age.
Adam returns to Sinica to comment on China’s recent cybersecurity law — where it came from, how it changed as it was being drafted, and how it may shape the flow of information in China in the future. Other issues discussed include the bargaining power — or lack thereof — of foreign companies such as Apple when faced with new rules and regulations in China, and related crackdowns on VPNs and other aspects of China’s ironically anti-globalized view of the internet.
Jeremy: A three-part BBC documentary, about 30 minutes long, about live streaming in China. It follows the story of a very popular 24-year-old woman who claims to make $450,000 per year by performing and sharing her life with adoring fans online. Watch the first part here.
Adam: Flood of Fire, the third book in the Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh about the Opium War. It brings together characters from India, the U.S., and China, and tells their stories in a sweeping saga.
Kaiser: The podcast Binge Mode, with Jason Concepcion and Mallory Rubin, a smart and funny look at every episode of Game of Thrones.