24th March Highlights

A proper expert on China, Trumpian trade, world order 2.0, and what does China have to do with pig faeces in North Carolina?


Hogs in China
Imported Smithfield pork at WH Group’s facility in Zhengzhou, China. Photo credits: via Rolling Stone, Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty

Expert View: Understanding China’s Rise

This week I couldn’t avoid a nod to the Kevin Rudd speech that Sinocism forwarded last Saturday. It’s been making the rounds, and if you’ve glimpsed it, but haven’t read it yet – do so forthwith.


Ex-Aussie PM Kevin Rudd speaks Chinese, has a good deal of diplomatic experience in China, and now heads up the Asia Society Policy Institute. I’ve never met him and don’t know an awful lot about him, but I recently heard a top China watcher describe Rudd as a ‘real intellectual firepower’.

For the China expert there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the speech, but Rudd does manage to pull together several threads and provide an overview that’s truly masterful. Not to say that the speech is introductory at all – it’s not, and it’s bordering on the academic in detail (in a good way). It’s the sort of thing I’d re-read to get my baseline if I was going to write a piece about Chinese foreign policy.

Actually, the speech is deep to the point that you’d think the audience – cadets at the US West Point Military Academy – would be well over their heads. I’m told by someone who’s spent time there that the assumption West Point cadets are all knuckleheads is severely misplaced. Apparently they do plenty of 5am jogging and crawling through mud, but they’re also all big brains with big degrees. With that picture in mind, Rudd’s speech actually does look a lot like a high-level military briefing to a bunch of smart non-China experts who are fluent in politics.

Biggest news: Economic armageddon

Of course, Xi was re-elected last Saturday, and the National People’s Congress ended on Tuesday. For an overview of that, check out Chris Buckley’s takeaways, or the recent MERICS update.

In terms of big news, I’m going to go with the coming trade war, which has been in the headlines for months, if not the past year, but which seems to be beginning in earnest this month. Trump rolled out his steel and aluminium tariffs earlier this month, before slapping tariffs on $60 billion of Chinese imports, targeted at sectors that China has identified as strategically important (in the context of its Made in China 2025 plans). It’s not just China that’s directed affected by the flowering of Trump’s protectionist ambitions – from what I’ve heard, the EU is deeply, deeply worried too (Bloomberg on German cars).

But of course, the whole world is going to feel the effects of a US-China trade war and the gutting of the World Trade Organisation (New York Times on the WTO) – it’s the beginning of a new era, just not what we wanted globalisation 2.0 to look like. Although, I did hear someone this week suggest that maybe Trump was some sort of fool in disguise, deliberately introducing chaos and danger so as to motivate real change to the world trade system (the WTO has been in trouble and has been sliding towards irrelevance for some time now).

But seriously, after the departure of McMaster, Tillerson, and Gary Cohn this month there is literally no-one even vaguely establishment left in the White House. It’s tempting to view Trump’s “you’re fired” moments as evidence of his idiocy and madness, but he’s clearly, deliberately, filling the White House with people who are as mad, or madder than him (from a status quo perspective).Here’s a long, angry profile of McMaster’s replacement for National Security Advisor – John Bolton. People are worried about him, and probably for good reason. He’s the sort of nut job who’d suggest Israel should nuke Iran. Oh wait, he already has?

Meanwhile, Beijing has said that it will “fight to the end” in any trade war, but really, as generally practical people concerned with success in the “new era”, they’re desperately trying to avert catastrophe. Liu He, China’s economy guy, visited Washington earlier this month with a list of areas in which China was willing to make broader concessions on trade. He left without any agreement, but there’s still time. More generally though, it’s now super clear where the White House stands on the US-China relationship. It’s also now super clear where the White House stands on America’s erstwhile position at the centre of the global economic system.

More: FT article with quotes from experts (archived, i.e. non-paywalled – don’t tell anyone); Cato Institute with a load of trade stuff.

Academic view: World Order 2.0

Following on from news of the impending destruction of the current world trade order, here’s a more theoretical piece on what the World Order 2.0 should like. Interesting stuff. Basically, it should be about sovereign obligation, rather than Westphalian sovereignty, or about nations recognising their global responsibilities, rather than thinking about sovereignty purely in domestic terms.

The article admits that the practice is the hard bit. Getting to some sort of agreement between nations as to the rules governing these obligations wouldn’t be easy.

It’s something of an obvious, but an overlooked idea – perhaps because it is dismissed as too idealistic. But in a post-US-hegemony world, why should we dismiss the idea of straight up negotiating the boundaries and rules of a new global order that includes all the big emerging powers? American addiction to supremacy is the obvious answer, but it seems like a dumb one if the alternative is conflict, global trade war, and a kind of “Lukewarm War” (as opposed to Cold War, which doesn’t seem right given how interlinked the world is compared to Soviet times).

To read over breakfast: China exporting pig production to the US

This is a really interesting long read that is mainly about the horrors and human consequences of industrial hog farming in North Carolina. The curious China-related twist is that these are hog farms owned by a Chinese company – the high are reared in the Southern states because lax environmental standards and plenty of land make it cheaper to do so, dumping the environmental consequences of open air pig-shit pools on local residents and importing the clean meat back to China.

Actually, given that pig faeces is fairly central to the story, maybe this isn’t the best thing to recommend you read over breakfast.


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