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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: June, 2019
Jun 27, 2019

Antony Dapiran is a seasoned corporate lawyer who has worked in Hong Kong and Beijing for the last two decades. In that time, he’s become a historian of protests in Hong Kong and the author of City of Protest: A Recent History of Dissent in Hong Kong (2017), which explores the idea of protest as an integral part of Hong Kong’s identity. In a conversation with Kaiser and Jeremy, Antony brings a historical perspective to his analysis of the current demonstrations over the highly unpopular extradition bill, the shelving of which has not slaked the anger of demonstrators.

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

7:46: Reports emerged last week that suggested that the extradition bill, met with fierce opposition in Hong Kong, originated from the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, rather than in Beijing. Antony provides his take on this development: “People felt it could only be the hand of Beijing behind this, directing the Hong Kong administration to do it. Otherwise, why would it be done in such a roughshod fashion on such an issue that was clearly going to be of great sensitivity in Hong Kong and potentially against the interest of the Hong Kong community? Notwithstanding how surprising it is, it really does raise questions about the competence of Carrie Lam and her administration.”

12:10: Given the stark pushback against the bill, did Lam and her team see this coming? As a career civil servant, she has never had to undergo a general election, so this fumble could be a result of “cluelessness,” according to Antony. “There are a number of jokes going around Hong Kong that she doesn’t know how to catch the MTR, or that when she first moved into the Chief Executive’s residence, she didn’t know where to buy toilet paper.”

13:57: Is the comparison to the Umbrella Movement of 2015 an apt one? Antony gives us his opinion: “They organized and mobilized themselves rather by way of online chat forums, private messaging groups on Telegram and WhatsApp — it’s even being said that they’re using AirDrop to communicate instructions and messages on the ground. And that is a really strong contrast to the Umbrella Movement of five years ago, which, even as a student movement, had very clear leadership and was very much centrally organized.”  

He continues, “I think part of the reason why the protesters, this time around, are avoiding that model is precisely a direct response to the Hong Kong government’s aggressive prosecution and jailing of the Umbrella Movement leaders.”

24:46: What has happened since the Umbrella Movement in 2015? “The Umbrella Movement was regarded as a failure — it didn’t achieve its aims,” Antony states. “And then, in the five years since then, the Hong Kong government has steadily tightened the screws on dissent in the city… Using the cover of the legal system and Hong Kong’s rule of law has resulted in what I call a campaign of ‘lawfare’ for that reason.”

35:57: What of the leadership in Beijing and its take on the protests, and the handling of the protests by the Hong Kong government? Antony explains: “The vacuum that’s likely to be left by the much diminished authority of Carrie Lam in itself presents either an opportunity or a threat.” The opportunity being that, while the Legislative Council has “almost been reduced to rubber stamp function,” this may reinvigorate legislators in Hong Kong — whereas the threat may be that Beijing sees the vacuum as Hong Kong’s inability to govern itself, and “decides that it needs to intervene.”

Recommendations:

Jeremy: A Twitter account, @finnegansreader, which is a bot reading James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake line by line. There is a sister account for the author’s Ulysses, @ulyssesreader.

Antony: The author Dung Kai-cheung, and his masterpiece, Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City.

Kaiser: Total War: Three Kingdoms, a turn-based strategy game by Creative Assembly, and John Zhu’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms podcast.

Jun 20, 2019

Ryan Hass, who served as the Director for China on the National Security Council during President Barack Obama's second term, is alarmed at the direction that the U.S. policy toward China has been taking, and offers good sense on what we could be doing instead. While clear-eyed about Beijing, he warns that the path Washington is now on will lead to some dire outcomes. Ryan joins Kaiser in a show taped at the Brookings Institution, where Ryan now serves as a Rubenstein fellow with the John L. Thornton China Center.

Today, we also publish on SupChina an essay by Ryan titled, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” In the essay, Ryan explains why the U.S.-China relationship will not return to the days before President Trump was elected, and suggests five questions the U.S. policy community could use to structure its thinking towards China going forward.

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

3:10: China-watchers have witnessed tumultuous change in the U.S.-China relationship since President Trump’s election in 2016. Ryan elaborates on changes in Washington: “For 40 years, center-right and center-left policymakers basically had their hands on the steering wheel of American policy toward China. That changed two years ago.” However, this may not hold true outside the Beltway, according to Ryan: “If we look at polling by Pew, or the Chicago Council…what we find is that most Americans don’t think of China either as a partner or as a rival. They have mixed feelings on China.”

14:12: Ryan shares his opinions on the current moment we find ourselves in concerning the bilateral relationship with China. “I personally think that we are in the most precarious moment in the U.S.-China relationship that we have been in since 1979, or perhaps 1972,” he states, explaining that conflicting diagnoses on the main areas of contention result in greater disarray. Ryan adds that actors in Beijing claim that the United States’ “anxieties about China’s relative rise” in Washington have resulted in the heavy-handed policies, whereas on the other hand, those in Washington claim China has “stepped back from the path of reform and opening,” thus justifying the current approach.

32:13: Has the argument of containment reemerged in the era of Trump? Kaiser suggests that, with arms sales to Taiwan, F-35 sales to Japan, and the increasingly severe action and rhetoric taken against Huawei, one could hesitantly say yes if viewing the current state of affairs from Beijing’s perspective. Ryan responds: “There was a point in time when I could say confidently yes, that [containment] is an unreasonable conclusion for Beijing to draw… It’s harder for me to make that same case credibly anymore.”

However, he does make a poignant case for optimism: “I guess I am just reluctant to accept the fatalism that seems to be so enrapturing the Beltway right now that it is impossible for our two countries, or systems, to coexist with each other because they are fundamentally at odds.”

40:53: The nature of the relationship between the United States and China will be one of increased competition. What can be done about it? Ryan suggests a more proactive approach, saying: “For me, the core question, though, isn’t whether we as Americans should feel righteous in our indignation about certain Chinese behaviors, but really: What should we be doing about it?”

Recommendations:

Ryan: The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal, by Bill Burns, a source of inspiration for Ryan in his diplomatic career, and the Hamilton soundtrack.  

Kaiser: Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, a collection of essays by Michael Chabon.

Jun 13, 2019

This week, Kaiser is joined by Nury Turkel of the Uyghur Human Rights Project in an in-depth conversation with Wu'er Kaixi (Örkesh Dölet), best known as one of the student leaders in the Tiananmen protests that rocked Beijing 30 years ago. He talks about the heady intellectual freedom of the 1980s, the movement's goals in 1989, the frustrations of exile, and his growing involvement in the Uyghur diaspora's efforts to draw attention to Beijing's draconian detentions of Uyghurs and other Muslims in China's Xinjiang region.

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

17:41: Nury references a movement that is often overlooked in the context of late 20th century democratic movements around the world that served as an inspiration for the Tiananmen student movements: “In 1989, we were imitating Poland. That’s a very important reference that the world should know. What happened in 1989 feels like the Solidarity movement in Poland. We saw it [come] along step by step, and it was very inspiring.”

25:34: Nury describes the dramatic scene of several hundred thousand university students from local colleges marching a circuit around the second ring road that encircles the center of Beijing: “When we took the ring road — I mean, 100,000 students took the ring road… what’s more exciting is the people standing by on the two sides of the ring road. [They were] Beijingers. Their support is the [thing] that gave us all the confidence. [There had] to be half a million people there that day.”

59:02: Nury asks Kaixi about inaction on behalf of both Muslim and Western governments regarding the ongoing internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. He responds: “The real reason the Uyghur movement has not been on the map — there are many, many factors that contribute to that: Number one, unfortunately, Uyghur people [follow] an Islamic faith. Let’s look at this with all honesty. Today’s world [is] not that honest. Today’s world is not that courageous. We don’t live in a perfect world. And the Western world finds it much more convenient to neglect the Uyghur movement.”

Jun 6, 2019

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This week, Kaiser sits down with Jude Blanchette in the Sinica South Studio in Durham, North Carolina, to talk about Jude's new book, China's New Red Guards: The Return of Radicalism and the Rebirth of Mao Zedong, which just came out on June 3. Jude explains the origins of the neo-Maoists and others on the left opposition, and how overlooking the conservative reaction to reform and opening impoverishes our understanding of China and its politics.

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

9:33: The show begins with a discussion on Diāo Wěimíng 刁伟铭, an editor of the prominent neo-Maoist website Utopia (乌有之乡 wūyǒu zhī xiāng), and his untimely death in a vehicle collision while leading a group of Chinese tourists in North Korea visiting the grave of Mao Zedong’s grandson. Jude states: “Not only is his story fascinating and the story of why the heck they were in North Korea, but also [because] the news of the bus crash was originally suppressed.” The sensitivity of information about neo-Maoists reflects how their relationship with the Communist Party is “fraught” and “complex,” Jude says, who adds that this relationship “has been evolving for decades and continues to evolve now.”

18:48: Are there online platforms that lend themselves to radicalization in China? Jude explains how individuals find these communities organically, and moments around the turn of the millennium that prompted galvanization, the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade among them. “Several key print publications were shut down by Jiang Zemin in 2002 and 2003, and these were old, established, thick theoretical journals that essentially had been the only remaining outlets for the conservative intellectuals…and after those publications were shut down, they really cast about to see what to do next, and I think had there been no internet, it would have been quite difficult to reconstitute a movement. But they saw this fledgling piece of information technology…this provided a public square, so to speak, where people could come together.”

27:34: What is neo-authoritarianism? What are the linkages between this ideology, the neo-Maoists, and the increasing prominence of technology? Jude tells the story of this theory in China and of the early progenitors, one of whom now sits on the Politburo Standing Committee.

31:21: How does the radical left in China view the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989? Jude notes: “You would think given what we know about the current political program of neo-Maoism that they would either minimize or deny that there was any sort of massacre on June 4th, but in fact that’s actually not the case…there’s actually a much more nuanced position on things like the Cultural Revolution and June 4th than you would originally think.”

57:32: During Wen Jiabao’s tenure in office, Jude claims there is a reason why he pointed to the Cultural Revolution — to warn against the increase in radical leftist political views: “I do think there is a reason Wen Jiabao chose to invoke the spirit of the cultural revolution when essentially he wanted to warn about the neo-Maoists and Bo Xilai. That there is this thread of radical politics, which is always a threat to the Communist Party. And the most powerful fuel for this radical style of politics is not this sort of Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei [style of] constitutional democracy. That’s not what the Party is really afraid of. It’s more afraid of people who outflank it from the left.”

Recommendations:

Jude: Behind the Curve, a film investigation into the “Flat Earth” community.  

Kaiser: How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, by Daniel Immerwahr, a story of the United States beyond the lower 48 states.  

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