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Sinica Podcast

A weekly discussion of current affairs in China with journalists, writers, academics, policy makers, business people and anyone with something compelling to say about the country that's reshaping the world. A SupChina production, hosted by Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn.
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Now displaying: March, 2019
Mar 28, 2019

This live Sinica Podcast recorded in New York on March 6 features Samm Sacks, Cybersecurity Policy and China Digital Economy Fellow at New America. She and Kaiser Kuo discuss the many facets of U.S.-China technology integration and competition, touching on topics such as data security, artificial intelligence, and how to build “a small yard with a high fence.”

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

11:04: Decoupling is a theme that has defined one of the more extreme potential outcomes of the fraying U.S.-China relationship. Are these conversations prevalent outside of Washington? What about the Silicon Valley tech community? Samm addresses these questions here, among others: “The reality is when we think about technology development, whether it’s joint research, supply chains, collaboration of sciences — these things don’t really map nicely onto political borders. And these are really diffuse networks that, when you try to decouple [them], there’s just a disconnect here.”

21:13: What is the relationship between technology companies and the Communist Party? What impact does China’s Cybersecurity and National Intelligence Law have on the companies’ supposed obligations to cooperate with authorities on sharing private data? When two passengers using Didi, a popular ride-share service in China, were killed, the company cooperated reluctantly, resulting in a bizarre legal limbo. Samm explains: “Chinese legal scholars were saying, wait a second, if Didi is to fall in line on this data-sharing agreement, that’s a violation of China’s Cybersecurity Law, because the Cybersecurity Law has a framework around the conditions where data is collected and shared. So again I think there’s a lot more churn than people understand.”

27:46: What is important data? China’s Cybersecurity Law has outlined broad data localization requirements. Does the government have the ability (or capability) to review the huge amounts of data going in and out of the country? Samm points out: “One of the outcomes I would look for if we were to see the so-called structural issues on the tech side, one would be is the Chinese government going to agree to allow more kinds of commercial data out of the country without these arduous security audits?”

34:41: Is China deliberately exporting its model of censorship to governments and countries throughout the world? What of the future of domestic surveillance in China? Who is discussing the ethical and legal implications of artificial intelligence being brought into everyday life and society, and where? Samm attended a Track 2 dialogue between Berkeley Law and Beijing University Law and discusses the conversations in the academic world regarding algorithmic bias, and contesting decisions made by artificial intelligence here.

40:58: Samm elaborates on the concept of “small yard and high fence.” What are some actionable items in the technological tussle unfolding between Washington and Beijing? She provides her guiding principle: “Having a constructive bilateral trade and investment relationship with China, particularly with technology, is in the interest of the United States. And we cannot take an approach that is going to use blanket bans and discrimination based on national origin. We need to use tools like law enforcement as the scalpel they were intended to be because of the integration of our two systems. Otherwise, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Recommendations:

Kaiser: Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, by James C. Scott.

Samm: Catastrophe, a British sitcom available on Prime Video.

Mar 21, 2019

This week on the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy are joined by Eric Olander, host of the China in Africa Podcast from the China Africa Project, and by Anzetse Were, a developmental economist based in Nairobi. They explore questions related to Kenyan debt and development, as well as Sino-American competition in East Africa.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

10:33: When did China begin to put concerted diplomatic effort into relations with African countries? What were the optics of China’s push into the African continent? Anzetse highlights three examples that led to China’s success in dealing with businesses and governments: “[Chinese diplomats] are quite humble in their articulation, certainly to African people, saying, ‘While this has been the Chinese experience, we don’t know what you want, what you can learn and what you don’t want to learn.’ So they’re not prescriptive. But of course the biggest thing that African governments like is that they don’t lecture about anything.”

19:05: Is China leading African countries into “debt traps”? What are the primary causes for concern regarding the debts of African governments, and the wider international community? Anzetse explains that it’s a confluence of factors, including transparency issues and the effects of kindling trade relationships with new partners: “There is concern in the global north, particularly Europe and North America, as to reexposure in African governments to debt…and their concern is that they’re doing it with a party that the world does not really understand in terms of how it deals with debt defaults and how it deals with repayments owed. I think that Europe and North America were much more comfortable when debt owed was in their hands, obviously because they had [control], but I think because they had a common understanding on how this would be addressed. They do not know how the Chinese are going to do this.”

42:21: America is restructuring the way it provides aid to the rest of the world through the International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) and the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act (BUILD Act), in an attempt to compete with China in the developing world. How effective is this restructuring? Eric provides some insight: “It’s not challenging China at all. It’s not intended to challenge China. Instead, they actually complement each other very, very well. So, a country like Kenya can turn to China for infrastructure and massive loans from the Chinese for a public sector type of development. But then, IDFC and the U.S. come in to fund American business and Kenyan business that can’t get funding anywhere else.”

49:36: What effect is the Belt and Road Initiative having in Africa? What about the African countries that are excluded from the plans, as China has made inroads, for the most part, on Africa’s eastern seaboard? Anzetse states: “I think the Chinese began to understand, ‘We do not want to start dividing African sentiments on China, we’re going to find a way to make sure all the regions in Africa are represented in this Belt and Road Initiative. Whether it will be practical is not clear.”

Recommendations:

Jeremy: I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation and In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo, both by Michela Wrong.

Eric: Competing against Chinese loans, U.S. companies face long odds in Africa, an article in the New York Times by Ed Wong.

Anzetse: Rhinocéros, by Eugène Ionesco.

Kaiser: Lake Success: A Novel, by Gary Shteyngart.

Mar 14, 2019

This week’s Sinica was recorded at UPenn’s Center for Study on Contemporary China. Jeremy and Kaiser speak with three prominent scholars on China: Sheena Greitens, associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri, Rory Truex, assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, and Neysun Mahboubi, research scholar at the Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania. The group tackles a topic that has long beleaguered China-watching circles: self-censorship. In addition, it focuses on a paper that Sheena and Rory published last summer, Repressive Experiences among China Scholars: New Evidence from Survey Data.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

22:41: Sheena describes the categories in which she and Rory organized “repressive experiences” in China, the center of their research, comprising 13 types of repression divided into three buckets: “The three broad categories that we looked at were restrictions on access to China itself, restriction on access to materials once you’re in China doing research, and monitoring and surveillance of that research by authorities in China.” According to their research, 20-25 percent of those interviewed had difficulty accessing archived materials, and 10 percent of visiting China scholars had been “invited” by authorities to speak with them and explain their research. When Chinese colleagues and interlocutors at host institutions are included in the sample, the figure jumps to 15 percent.

29:45: Rory’s hypothesis going into this project was that there would be a spike in repressive experiences and research after Xi Jinping’s ascent to power in 2012. Perceptions certainly trend in that direction. However, data from their research didn’t reveal major temporal trends related to these repressive experiences, with one caveat: “I talk to people who do a lot of fieldwork, and they say it’s actually much harder even to have interviews at all anymore. The one thing where there was a temporal trend was access to archives. If you talk to historians, they’ll talk a lot about how the archives are being sanitized, and projects, books, and dissertations that were feasible 10 or 15 years ago are no longer feasible today.”

48:05: What exactly is self-censorship? Neysun, Sheena, and Rory all take slightly differing views on what characterizes it. Rory discusses the calculus behind self-censorship, and identifies external stimuli that may have an impact on research and published materials in the United States: “We might be at the opposite [point of the problem], where the professional incentives [of researching contentious topics], plus the political environment in the United States are such that saying anything positive, or even neutral about the Communist Party is difficult to do, and difficult to publish.”

1:08:59: What role do China-watchers play in the larger conversation that, in the modern era, seems to be undergoing constant recalibration? What of the dichotomy among China-watchers, à la hawks versus doves? Here, Neysun, Sheena, and Rory all offer insight into these questions and suggestions on the way forward.

Recommendations:

Jeremy: Two jazz albums, Live at the Pershing, by Ahmad Jamal, a live recording from 1958, and Money Jungle, a studio album by Duke Ellington.

Neysun: Evening Chats in Beijing: Probing China’s Predicament, by Perry Link.

Sheena: Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westwood, and Harry and the Terrible Whatzit, by Dick Gackenbach.

Rory: The website www.chinachange.org, a website that provides reports, commentary, and analysis on human rights in China.

Kaiser: Haunted by Chaos: China’s Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping, by Sulmaan Wasif Khan.

Mar 7, 2019

This week, we feature the second half of an extensive interview (first part here) with Shelley Rigger, a political scientist at Davidson College and the leading U.S. expert on the politics of Taiwan. This second half of the interview, which covers the history of Taiwan from the 1990s to the present, was conducted by Neysun Mahboubi of the UPenn Center for the Study of Contemporary China Podcast (one of our favorite China podcasts), and is republished here with the Center’s permission.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

3:39: Shelley and Neysun discuss the nature of the relationship between Taiwan and China in the early 1990s, with identify the opponents and proponents of unification with the mainland. Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國 Jiǎng Jīng-guó, the son of Chiang Kai-shek, who succeeded his father as premier) allowed for veterans of the Chinese civil war to return to the mainland on humanitarian visits. These veterans were accompanied by their children, who saw economic opportunities on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. Shelley: “They get off the plane, and what Dad sees is, ‘I don’t recognize my hometown.’ What the son or son-in-law sees is, ‘This is perfect for my business.’”

17:55: What is it about Taiwanese independence that makes it such a contentious topic for officials in Beijing? What has been the result of the social, economic, and cultural interactions between Taiwan and the mainland since the 1990s? What role did Taiwanese investment in China play in the ’90s, and what about Chinese investment in Taiwan in the 21st century? Shelley and Neysun, Taiwan and China scholars respectively, talk through these questions.

33:49: Are there red lines in Beijing on the topic of Taiwanese independence? What are the primary points of inflection and contention in the relationship? What effect does a U.S. presence in Taiwan have on the Taiwan-P.R.C. relationship? Shelley explains: “Are we going to remind Beijing that we are in it in that way, and that in some sense the inability to solve this problem [of independence] that they have chosen for themselves is our fault? Are we going to put that right up in their faces, or are we going to say, ‘Taiwan is okay. We’re okay. We don’t need to, as my dad says, kick the skunk.’”

38:51: What about the U.S.-Taiwan relationship under the current U.S. administration? The phone call between Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīng-wén) and then president-elect Trump, which was intended to be private, certainly strained the relationship after being picked up by international media and tweets by Trump blaming Taiwan for the ensuing debacle that unfolded. Shelley: “The other thing about this administration that’s especially worrisome from the Taiwan perspective is that it’s very unpredictable, as you said, and so the possibility that Taiwan could be a bargaining chip or introduced into some transaction is ever-present…”

51:58: Taiwanese identity, and its role in the world, has undergone seismic changes throughout its history. Shelley points out that the discussion within the island nation has somewhat settled, but not without certain reservations: “The debate over identity that was raging in Taiwan in the 1990s and 2000s is pretty settled on the idea that, with the exception of the indigenous peoples and the ever-growing number of immigrants to Taiwan, our roots are in China…but that does not need to define us politically, and our community, the community of shared fate or common destiny that we belong to as Taiwanese, is specific to this island…”

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