This week on the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with two former ambassadors to the PRC who served during the years marking the transition from the Hu/Wen administration to the rule of Xi Jinping: Jorge Guajardo of Mexico and David Mulroney of Canada. They discuss the significant challenges that they faced, the perceptible changes in China's diplomatic norms and practices during their tenures as ambassadors, and, finally, the benefits and drawbacks that their countries see from the Trump administration's more assertive posture toward China.
Note: This show was recorded on December 20, 2018, five weeks before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sacked Canada’s latest ambassador to China.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
9:35: Ambassadors Guajardo and Mulroney speak about their experiences during their tenures in Beijing. Mulroney describes a change he noticed during his time as head of the Asia branch of Canada’s Foreign Ministry: “Dealing with the Chinese had become different. In the past, if there was a difficult decision or a tough negotiation, even if you came out on the short end, the Chinese would leave you something… That changed, and I saw it change on my visit as ambassador, where it was zero sum where they were going to walk away and leave you with nothing.”
25:26: Jeremy asks the two diplomats about the United States pressuring other countries to join the growing coalition that is pushing back against China on trade, and domestic discussions in their respective countries. Mulroney responds: “There’s a great fear of being seen to gang up on China, or to form a coalition against China. And that has, I think, precluded the possibility of really honest discussions of how we deal with China one on one. China has been remarkably successful in isolating countries, even big countries, like Britain and France. Canada has certainly felt that...”
29:47: Guajardo comments on changes in the U.S.-Mexico relationship and the effects this has on the relationship between the U.S. and China: “During all administrations prior to President Trump’s, there was sort of an unwritten rule with Mexico that Mexico would do all that was possible to block Huawei from building its telecommunications infrastructure. That changed with President Trump.”
37:45: How far should governments go in getting tough on China? Is there a red line, and if so, where is it? Mulroney explains: “Canada right now is dealing with the detention of a couple of Canadians, and an icy-cold relationship with China…a constellation of issues, Iran sanctions, the extradition treaty with the U.S., detention of citizens, but they all have something in common at the base…the suggestion that China has been a free rider in so many respects. We’ve come to this point before. We wring our hands and then China is given a pass. The one thing that President Trump has been getting right is that maybe we don’t give China a pass.”
Jeremy: An essay by James Meek in the London Review of Books, “The Club and the Mob,” about the destruction of news media.
Jorge: Travel to Mexico City! An affordable vacation spot with many direct flights, which will be fairly empty during the upcoming Easter holidays.
David: The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, by none other than Dorothy Day.
Kaiser: The comedy TV series Patriot, available on Amazon Prime Video.
This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with Ali Wyne, a policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, about the big picture in U.S.-China relations. Are we already in a cold war? Wyne gives a spirited argument that we're not — and makes the case that the interconnectedness between China and the U.S. can still serve as effective ballast in the relationship.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica:
5:13: Ali begins the conversation by elaborating on his argument against the use of a “cold war” trope in the modern U.S.-China context, which he wrote about in a conversation he spearheaded on ChinaFile.
13:27: Jeremy suggests alternatives to the cold war framing: “The decoupling? The freeze? The small ice age?” U.S.-China relations have undoubtedly shifted dramatically over the past two years, but how should China-watchers go about characterizing the shift? Kaiser, Jeremy, and Ali discuss, among other things, the November 2018 Hoover Institute publication, Chinese Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance.
22:58: Ali describes what could happen if further deterioration in U.S.-China relations occurs: “Decoupling is not a fait accompli…but what I worry about is that trade interdependence has been one of the few phenomena that has introduced some stability in a relationship between two countries that organically have little, if anything, in common. One of the few similarities between the United States and China, which actually amplifies their differences, is that both countries are convinced of their exceptionalism.”
33:27: Jeremy observes: “A few years ago, shortly after Xi Jinping came to power, Kaiser started calling it the 'new truculence,' which was a word we used on the show for many years, but it just doesn't seem right anymore because it's no longer 'new,' it's more like China has gone full honey badger and just doesn't give a f*** what the West thinks.” Jeremy and Ali discuss Beijing’s newfound confidence, and its potential geopolitical ramifications.
40:50: Ali cites an article by Samuel Huntington from the Winter 1988/89 edition of Foreign Affairs, The U.S. - decline or renewal?, where he urges the U.S. away from trying to “out-China China,” and encourages using this moment to push the U.S. to become a “more dynamic version of our best self.”
Jeremy: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat. Particularly useful for returning expats from China who have forgotten how to cook.
Kaiser: “What Donald Trump and Dick Cheney got wrong about America,” an article about American exceptionalism in The Atlantic.
Ali: The November/December 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs, with essays focused on nuclear weapons, and Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony, by Kori Schake.
This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with Christina Larson, a science and technology reporter for the Associated Press, about a major story that her team broke: the Chinese scientist Hè Jiànkuí 贺建奎 announcement that he had edited the genes of embryos conceived in vitro, and that twin girls had been born, making them — if his claims are true — the world’s first gene-edited babies. We look at the overwhelmingly critical response to this announcement in the Chinese scientific community, among ordinary people, and among officials, as well as what this may mean for the ethical landscape in Chinese science. Please note that this show was taped in December 2018, and since then, He Jiankui has resurfaced, claiming that he’s doing just fine — so far.
15:20: The process by which He Jiankui conducted his research raised concerns throughout scientific circles worldwide. Christina was among a team of Associated Press reporters that spoke with the supposed founder of the hospital HarMoniCare, who allowed He to circumvent submitting his research to an ethical review board. “He told us, quite proudly, that he wasn’t a doctor or scientist, but a hospital property developer.”
24:34: The dodgy science behind a misguided experiment. Christina lists the litany of failures in He’s methodology, principal among them: the genes that were intended to be edited. “But there’s also evidence from the information Hè presented…that only half of the intended genes were edited in one of the two twins.”
31:10: When it comes to medicine, particularly ethically questionable experiments like the one He conducted last year, the stakes are higher. "So, ideally, scientists have peer review and ethical review boards, and technology companies have trade secrets and product launches in beta, because presumably the stakes are lower if it's a social media app. But things get messier in medicine when it's a life-or-death technology. You can't release something like that in beta."
Jeremy: The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, a gene-centered story of evolution.
Christina: She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, by Carl Zimmer, a book on genetic inheritance; also, a story by Christina’s colleagues at the Associated Press on tracing products made in Uyghur internment camps: US sportswear traced to factory in China’s internment camps.
Kaiser: The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, by Jeff Guinn, a dispassionate story of the horrifically tragic story of Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre.
This week on the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy speak with Samm Sacks, Cybersecurity Policy and Chinese Digital Economy Fellow at New America, and Paul Triolo, Geotechnology Practice Head at the Eurasia Group. The two are among the best positioned to discuss the implications of the shocking arrest of Huawei CFO Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟 in Vancouver on December 1. The discussion focuses primarily on technological and national security aspects of the clash between Washington and Beijing, how Meng’s arrest fits into that clash, and the realities of fragmentation in the global telecommunications industry.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
19:53: China’s new Cybersecurity Law was a cause of concern for MNCs and tech specialists alike. Samm elaborates on specific actions taken by the Chinese government: “If you look at the enforcement actions that have been taken against that law so far, the vast majority of them are aimed at Chinese companies. Really, they haven’t implemented it as much on foreign companies…and there are things like content violations…domestic cybersecurity issues. I think a lot of these fears are being bundled up together and creating this larger tech fear.”
23:03: During a recent visit to Zhejiang University, Paul and Samm spoke with a professor who wrote a book on Huawei’s corporate culture and described it as such: “It’s kind of like a car going 60 miles an hour on the highway and changing a tire at the same time.”
28:13: The extent to which Huawei can push back against the government and the degree to which Beijing is able to strong-arm private companies under China’s Internet Security Law remain largely opaque. However, gaining the trust of the international community has proved to be a steep uphill battle for Huawei: “Huawei is a global company, operating in 170 countries. If it became clear that Huawei was simply an arm of the Chinese government and was doing Beijing’s bidding at every turn, it wouldn’t be able to operate as a global company. The problem here is that the company is forced to prove a negative.”
38:27: Paul speaks about the globalization of supply chains: “…the problem is, for 30 years, companies have been told, ‘Optimize your supply chains and go to places like China,’ where there has been cheaper labor. But now it’s really more about skilled labor, not about cheaper labor — it’s about skilled engineers. Foxconn can build a facility to build iPhones in Zhejiang and easily find 30,000 engineers to staff it up, but when it goes to Wisconsin, it has a lot of problems.”
Jeremy: Dr. Seuss, You’re Only Old Once!: A Book for Obsolete Children, a fun story of aging and falling apart.
Samm: The Chilling Adventure of Sabrina, the Netflix reboot of the classic TV series Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
Paul: A close read of the book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, by Kai-Fu Lee 李开复.
Kaiser: “The Huawei fallout leaves companies and countries with an impossible choice,” a Washington Post op-ed by Scott Moore.
This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy speak with Julian Ku, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Maurice A. Deane Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Hofstra University. After the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟 in Vancouver at the behest of the U.S. Justice Department dominated international headlines in December 2018, U.S.-China relations have entered uncharted territory. The three convened to discuss the many legal aspects of her arrest and what this means for the bilateral relationship moving forward.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
7:54: Bank fraud, sanctions violations, or competition over 5G? All three? In response to Jeremy, Julian explains the strategy behind the decision to charge Meng with bank fraud and how this differs from the legal strategy in charging ZTE: “...as they did with ZTE, it’s actually much easier for the Commerce Department to just go after them on a civil standard and say you’re violating our sanctions laws and we’re just going to cut you off from the U.S. market. There’s no jury, there’s no trial, you don’t have to prosecute that person, and you don’t have to worry about the complications with extradition.”
20:15: What internal processes and parties were involved in this arrest? Julian explains how these extradition requests are generally handled as they work their way through various government offices. “It’s sort of like a bureaucratic process but with a little bit of wiggle room among the different departments so that you’re not putting a country in a bad position. So, I think Canada is supposed to have a little room to think about this, and I think ideally we gave them a chance to think about it and turn them down. But we obviously really wanted this to happen.”
34:24: Julian discusses the role that variable interest entities (VIEs) play in Chinese companies and the legal claims made by Meng and HSBC. “For tax purposes or for regulatory purposes, the law will sometimes allow companies to be structured in different ways...or for corporate governance purposes. Having said that, there [is] also a long tradition of what we call piercing the corporate veil in the United States. Which is, we say, ‘Look, we know technically it’s a separate corporation but because they commited a separate tort or crime, we’re just going to pierce the corporate structure and go straight to the shareholders and hold them accountable.’”
Jeremy: Two Kinds of Time, by Graham Peck, with an introduction by Robert Kapp. A book of observations of China from the 1940s.
Julian: Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation, by Elizabeth Pisani. A 2014 memoir of a journalist from the U.K. in Indonesia.
Kaiser: The instrumental progressive rock band Animals As Leaders, led by guitarist Tosin Abasi.