This week on Sinica, Kaiser speaks with Danny Russel, career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2013 to 2017, and currently vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). The conversation centers on all things diplomatic in East and Southeast Asia: the Trans-Pacific Partnership; internet freedom in China; the country’s “illiberal turn”; espionage and intellectual property theft during his time in Washington; the Obama administration’s position on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); and, finally, reflections on the current state of the U.S.-China relationship.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
3:20: Kaiser begins the discussion with a question about the characterization of the Obama administration’s regional strategy, the “Pivot to East Asia.” Russel maintains that “[Barack Obama]…understood intellectually and understood viscerally, that America’s economic development, that America’s security interests and America’s future, was inextricably linked to the Asia-Pacific region, which was clearly the driver of global growth.”
38:25: Assistant Secretary Russel elaborates on the driving forces behind the “illiberal turn” that has fueled anxieties among China-watchers. “It felt as if the impact of the 2008 financial crisis had sent a pulse through Chinese thinking. This pulse seemed to dispel the long-held notion that there was something to respect, and to perhaps imitate, in the Western economic model.”
57:31: “If China’s going to throw a lot of money behind the laudable objective of promoting infrastructure development in Asia, why doesn’t it use the Asian Development Bank, or the World Bank, or some of the existing mechanisms that are proven institutions? And if then, if China is going to create not a national bank, but an international development bank, the starting point for any new multilateral banking institution had better be the high-water mark in terms of standards and operations that have been achieved over the last 70 years by the existing multilateral banks.”
59:00: “Early on in the time of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s conception, it was all label and no substance. What we were seeing, and hearing was that China was asking governments to buy what was a pig in a poke.”
1:05:36: Kaiser raises a question regarding the anxieties that have taken root between Washington and Beijing and now are straining the relationship, some deserved and others unfounded. “We’re seeing what’s almost a perfect storm in which the accumulated frustration and unhappiness among so many different elements of U.S. society, and so many stakeholders that traditionally have supported the U.S.-China relationship,” Assistant Secretary Russel comments on the continually worsening state of affairs, as there is a the “diminished willingness to speak up” in defense of the relationship.
Assistant Secretary Russel: No book or show, but rather a plea for public service; the Foreign Service, joining a non-governmental organization, nonprofit work, etc.
Kaiser: Educated, by Tara Westover, a memoir of a young girl raised in a fundamentalist, survivalist Mormon family in Idaho.
This week on Sinica, Jeremy and Kaiser speak with Kai-Fu Lee 李开复, who has returned to discuss his new book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. Kai-Fu is a prominent member of the international artificial intelligence community and is chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, founded in 2009. Kai-Fu brings to Sinica a wealth of knowledge on topics that have developed into rather large points of contention in the U.S.-China bilateral relationship over the past year: AI and its various usages across a wide range of industries; the “high-octane” nature of Chinese data; tech policy in China; venture capital and its interplay with domestic private companies; the future of China’s AI industry and what that means for the rest of the world; and the nuances of the business and finance aspects of running a technology company in China.
Kai-Fu previously spoke about artificial intelligence on Sinica last summer.
What to listen for this week on the Sinica Podcast:
4:52: A discussion on potential future “Sputnik moments” in the field of artificial intelligence and why, given historical trends, we might not see another breakthrough for several decades. Kai-Fu elaborates: “I think we’ve shifted to the age of implementation, where China excels and arguably is caught [up] with the U.S. and maybe leading the U.S. over the next five years.”
15:10: Kai-Fu in response to Jeremy’s question about China potentially exporting its AI capacity, and what effects that may have on the rest of the world: “…projected over time, I would expect the U.S. to be by far the leader, and perhaps the unchallenged leader, in the developed countries. But pretty much in all the other countries (in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and to a lesser extent, in South America), China is going to be a major force to be reckoned with.”
27:55: Kai-Fu describes three key undertakings of the Chinese government regarding industrial policy in China as well as how different provinces and institutions have different uses for AI. He also likens China’s infrastructure investments to Eisenhower’s creation of the Interstate Highway System.
Kai-Fu: A slew of sci-fi movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey; Minority Report; Robot & Frank; Gattaca; and his favorite sci-fi TV show, Black Mirror.
Kaiser: Alec Ash, executive editor of the China Channel at the L.A. Review of Books.
Chinese Taught in Plain English:
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This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy are joined by Nury Turkel, a prominent voice in the overseas Uyghur community and the chairman of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, now based in Washington, D.C. We discussed Nury’s own experiences as a Uyghur and an activist both in China and the United States; the increasingly vocal Uyghur diaspora around the world in the wake of widespread detentions in Xinjiang; the relative absence of state-level pushback outside of China; and the international organizations that advocate for Uyghur rights in China and the accompanying pushback from Beijing.
If you aren’t yet up to speed on the deteriorating state of affairs for Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, take a look at SupChina’s explainer for a comprehensive overview of the reporting of information from October 2017 through August 2018.
What to listen for this week on the Sinica Podcast:
13:13: Nury elaborates on the most significant inflection points in the relationship between Xinjiang and Beijing: “The ethnic tension, the political repression, has already been there. But it has gotten worse over time. Starting in the mid-’90s, 2001, 2009, 2016. And now what we’re seeing is probably the darkest period in Uyghur history.”
22:11: Discussion of the goals of international organizations involved in documenting and researching Xinjiang and the plight of the Uyghurs, the largest being the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich, the Uyghur American Association based in Washington, D.C., and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, which Nury co-founded in 2004. Kaiser, Jeremy, and Nury discuss the ties to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the sharp rebuke these ties draw from Beijing.
33:19: “It is mind-boggling that, to this day, since this current nightmare started about 18 months ago, no Muslim country, no Muslim leader, has criticized the Chinese government in the slightest,” Nury said in response to a question raised by Jeremy about the growing trend of Islamophobia in China.
40:15: Nury notes that there is reason for optimism, despite the dire circumstances Uyghur residents in Xinjiang now face. “I think the current political environment in China has given an opportunity for the Uyghurs’ voice to be heard.” He continues, “This is a critical movement in Uyghur history. This is a terrible [humanitarian] crisis as it has been portrayed by some U.S. lawmakers. But, at the same time, this issue has put the Uyghurs on an international map.”
Jeremy: Maus (1 and 2), graphic novels by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman.
Nury: The Uyghur Human Rights Project report The Mass Internment of Uyghurs. Also: The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, by Rian Thum; The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land, by Gardner Bovingdon; and Eurasian Crossroads, by Jim Millward.
Kaiser: Harry Belafonte’s 1959 live album, At Carnegie Hall.
This week, the Sinica Podcast network adds another show: ChinaEconTalk, hosted by Jordan Schneider. In this crossover on Sinica, Jordan discusses "China's Grand AI Ambitions" with Rhodes scholar Jeff Ding.
Jeff Ding breaks down how China stacks up to the rest of the world in the race to develop AI. He delves into the connections between Chinese tech companies and government AI targets, AI’s military implications, as well as the ethical considerations of AI applications in China’s police state.