November 12th Highlights


Telling Xi how it is, digital payments and big data, Beijing’s first contact with aliens, and a new model of global governance.

China First Contact with Aliens
Image Credit: The Atlantic/ Jon Juarez

Some Frank Advice for President Xi

From veteran China correspondent John Pomfret, a bold open letter to President Xi, which ends with the closing statement:

Chairman Xi, I’d like to ask you whether your nation still cares about its relations with the United States. Or is your country really committed to removing the United States from the Western Pacific and to replacing the United States as the resident power in Asia? The United States has operated in the Pacific since 1783. It doesn’t have much inclination to leave anytime soon.

Following Trump’s Asia tour, the Twitterati’s general consensus seems to be that Xi pulled one over on Trump. Beijing laid on ‘state visit plus‘ treatment for the American President and Trump was left gushing about Xi, calling him a ‘very special man‘ yet returning to the US with little in the way of useful concessions.

Pomfret’s piece was written before the visit, so it doesn’t deny that Xi played Trump like a fiddle (although we should be hesitant about leaping to that tempting conclusion), but he does point out that anti-China sentiment in the US ‘goes well beyond Trump’. It’s an important read, and a good antidote to the sentiment of perverse anti-Trumpian, Beijing-triumphalism, which is widespread amongst China watchers.


As you welcome President Trump to your country, here’s a bit of advice: Don’t assume you can dodge a crisis in your relations simply by appealing to his vanity.

…I have never seen my fellow China experts in America more dispirited about the two nations’ relationship and more united in the belief that your country is mostly to blame…

Too many companies have been burned while doing business in China.


How the Belt and Road Project Fills a Global Governance Vacuum 

A great translation of an interview with Chen Zhimin, a professor at Fudan’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs and associate dean of Fudan University’s newly established Institute of Belt and Road & Global Governance (BRGG).

Worth reading in it’s entirety, this piece is a solid insight into Chinese academia’s understanding of the Belt and Road narrative, that is, as a non-western alternative model of global governance.

In the past, Western countries tended to view governance problems as something that only occurred in developing countries. Today, however, examples of weak or failed governance can be found in the developed world, too. In the developing world, these problems are generally attributable to underdeveloped internal capabilities or overwhelming external challenges. But those in the developed world can be attributed to those states’ complacency and misuse of power….

However, in light of the mistakes Western countries have made, any reduction of their wrong governance can be seen as a positive development.

China’s AI Revolution Advances, One Mobile Payment at a Time

This well-written piece insightfully diagnoses ‘breathless coverage’ of China’s emerging cashless society, whilst pinpointing the real significance of digitised purchasing:

At the dawning of the AI era, data is the raw energy that fuels new advances—everything from better products to bespoke services. Mobile payments are helping Chinese companies capture massive amounts of what has traditionally been the most elusive kind of data: offline consumer activity in the real world. In short, they are creating a real time, real world map of consumer behavior, an incredibly valuable tool for these consumer-facing internet companies.

What Happens if China Makes First Contact?

The dish is Earth’s first flagship observatory custom-built to listen for a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence. If such a sign comes down from the heavens during the next decade, China may well hear it first.

Finally, a really fantastic long Sunday read. This piece combines SETI, Chinese history, philosophical musings, and the thoughts of Liu Cixin, the wonderful Chinese sci-fi writer responsible for the epic ‘The Remembrance of Earth’s Past’ trilogy.

It’s not worth going into a detailed synopsis here, as the joy of such a piece is in reading it.

China has largely focused on the applied sciences. It built the world’s fastest supercomputer, spent heavily on medical research, and planted a “great green wall” of forests in its northwest as a last-ditch effort to halt the Gobi Desert’s spread. Now China is bringing its immense resources to bear on the fundamental sciences. The country plans to build an atom smasher that will conjure thousands of “god particles” out of the ether, in the same time it took cern’s Large Hadron Collider to strain out a handful. It is also eyeing Mars. In the technopoetic idiom of the 21st century, nothing would symbolize China’s rise like a high-definition shot of a Chinese astronaut setting foot on the red planet. Nothing except, perhaps, first contact.

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