China Peace Initiative logo

China Peace Initiative

CPI Newsletter 2023-7-30

Deeper Question

Can the desire for respect be satisfied? 

When Henry Kissinger met with President Xi Jinping in Beijing recently, Mr. Xi is quoted as saying “Looking ahead, China and the United States can help each other succeed and prosper together, and the key is to follow the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.” 

These three principles–and similar–are mentioned in one way or another often by China’s leaders and have been for a long time.  “Peaceful coexistence” (let’s not fight) is very clear.  “Win-win cooperation” (let’s do things where we both benefit) would be easy to measure.  There is a challenge, it would seem, in how exactly to define, measure, and ultimately satisfy “mutual respect.”

The word respect is used very often by China.  It is very important to them.  Perhaps it would be better if it were not so important.  There are many challenges to the concept of respect:   

  • True respect vs fake respect
  • Deep respect vs shallow respect
  • Earned respect vs demanded respect
  • An individual can respect, but can a nation?

When there are so many fundamental differences between China and the West–and the relationship is so broad and complex–it would seem that any disagreement, over even the slightest thing, would derail respect.  Actually, it is somewhat interesting for a nation to even mention respect.  Trying to recall if other nations ask to be respected comes up a blank.  Perhaps it happened long ago, in another era.           

Even at the individual-to-individual level there are challenges to respect.  A Chinese person looks at Western society and thinks, “I would never live the way you live, with so much chaos, how can I respect you?”  A Westerner looks at a Chinese person and thinks, “I would never live under a government like that, all control and no freedoms, how can I respect you?”

The thing about respect is that everybody knows what it means, when it exists, and when it does not.  True respect—like true love—is deep and genuine and very easy to feel (or not). 

Since it seems such a challenge to satisfy the hope for respect, let’s focus our efforts on peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation.

 

Stories to Read

China’s slowing, disappointing economy continues to be major story—

The International Monetary Fund has recently announced that the whole world economy could slow because of the slowdown in China.  There was a Politburo meeting this week on the topic of the economy.   News has been trickling out all week about intervention measures with particular focus on China’s support for private enterprises (perhaps a response to Mr. Xi’s Work Report from the National People’s Congress meeting back in October) and a softened tone toward Big Tech.  Western news sources focus on calls for more and different government stimulus.  China calls this “Western hype” and is reluctant to take on too much debt.  Would that other nations were as cautious regarding debt!        

Changes to leadership commanding China’s nuclear arsenal—

A few days ago, President Xi Jinping spoke to a gathering of senior People’s Liberation Army commanders (PLA is an umbrella term for all of China’s military services).  He emphasized the importance of Communist Party of China (CPC) control over the military, of adhering to CPC direction, of being loyal, and of following orders.  One explanation is that this is in response to the Wagner revolt in Russia.  There are other possible explanations.  Later in the week, headlines would announce that leadership of the Space Force (which manages China’s nuclear arsenal) was being investigated for corruption and that two alternates—both a new commanding general and a new Party Commissar–were being sent to replace existing commanders.     

CIA announces publicly that it is steadily rebuilding network of intelligence gatherers in China—

What!  Yes, that is what CIA Director Burns announced at the Aspen Security Forum.  Before addressing that, let us be clear that the Ambassador to China (R. Nicholas Burns) and the Director of the CIA (William J. Burns) are two different people and that they are not related, although they were both born in 1956 and both have been life-long US diplomats.  Nicholas Burns has been US Ambassador in China since 2022 and William Burns has been the Director of the CIA since 2021.  William Burns did announce publicly at an event also attended by Chinese Ambassador to the US, Mr. Xie Feng, that the CIA had been steadily rebuilding their network of intelligence gatherers in China.  He confirmed that although the effort suffered a major setback about ten years ago lately things had been improving.  And yes, this kind of announcement is somewhat perplexing.  It could be true, or it could just be posturing, or it could be meant to drive China crazy and waste resources chasing ghosts, or it could be some or all the above.  Or could be something else altogether.   Welcome to “The Geo-politics Game.”

By the way, the China Peace Initiative offers a free online seminar entitled “The Geo-politics Game.”          

Mr. Qin Gang is officially removed from the post of Foreign Minister on July 25—

When you watch or listen to news reports on CCTV in China, they go fast.  You have to pay close attention, especially if you are not a native speaker of Chinese.  There is usually a male and a female announcer, they are very serious, and they alternate reading bullet points rapidly.  It can be exhausting.  It was in one of these broadcasts—fired out in one of those bullet points–that the world found out that Qin Gang had been removed from his post as Foreign Minister.   Qin Gang’s predecessor in the position, Mr. Wang Yi, is being re-assigned to the role.   There is still no explanation from the Foreign Ministry about what happened and they have been testy about questions.  Ms. Mao Ning—spokeswoman for the ministry—knows that everybody wants to know yet reveals nothing.  What she does say can be summed up in this AFP headline: “China Slams Malicious Hype over FM Qin Gang’s Dismissal” (July 27).  It must have been quite a time for Wang Yi because while all of this is going on, China is hosting a non-stop stream of visitors from the US, including Henry Kissinger.  In Wang Yi’s remarks with Mr. Kissinger he said, “it is impossible to contain China.”    

Wuhan Institute of Virology is back in the news—

One would have thought that after all the political machinations of the “China virus,” the turmoil that the whole world went through because of COVID, the non-stop salvos of blame, and the current state of relations between China and the US…that there would be no further question about whether the US government will financially support the lab.  Nope!  In fact, this was only just officially announced.  No funding has actually been provided since July 2020 but the matter had to go through a process of review and reach a formal determination.  This review recently concluded that the lab “is not compliant with federal regulations” according to a memo from the US Department of Health and Human Services dated July 17.

Pew Research Center survey shows increasing negative perceptions of China in many nations—

More than 30,000 adults from twenty-four high and middle income countries were surveyed about what they thought of China.  Of all those surveyed in all 24 nations, 68% had an unfavorable opinion of China.  28% had a favorable opinion of China.  There were more positive than negative surveys in Kenya, Mexico, and Nigeria.  The negative surveys were over 80% in Australia, Japan, Sweden and the United States.  71% of those surveyed believe that China does little or nothing at all to contribute to global peace and stability.   74% have little or no confidence that China’s President Xi Jinping will do the right thing in world affairs.   Surveys always have room for error and as we all know, the way the questions are phrased can lead the responses.  A subset of the data seems to indicate that while most immigrants to the US have favorable (maybe nostalgic) views of the nations they or their families came from, that does not apply to immigrants from China and Vietnam.  Those respondents ranked other Asian nations far above their own ancestral nation.    

US announces $345 million in weapons support for Taiwan—

The US will immediately be sending $345 million in weapons to Taiwan.  This does not need the approval of Congress because US President Joe Biden has used a presidential power referred to as “drawdown authority.”  Drawdown authority is used when time is of the essence because of an emergency.  This $345 million is only the first installment of a total $1 billion in US weapons headed to Taiwan. 

People to Know

Mr. Pan Gongsheng—

Pan Gongsheng has been named the governor of the Peoples Bank of China (China’s central bank), replacing Mr. Yi Gang who had been in the role since 2018.  Mr. Pan has a PhD from Renmin University and studied abroad in both the UK and the US.  Until moving to this new role, he had had been the head of SAFE (State Administration for Foreign Exchange).  Before that he worked at both the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and the Agricultural Bank of China.  At ICBC he was part of a very complex, challenging and ultimately successful re-structuring effort.  Many in the West accuse China—or at minimum they wonder—if its senior leaders are not all just sycophants.  Pan Gongsheng is no sycophant. 

Stephen Roach—

Stephen Roach has been the chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, he is currently a faculty member at Yale University, and he continues to tell US politicians that they need to do better.  How many more times do people need to remind US political leaders that America’s economic fundamentals are off course and that it is their job to lead the electorate responsibly, starting with stating real problems honestly?  Stephen Roach is trying.  His book “Accidental Conflict: America, China, and the Clash of False Narratives” published in 2022 is excellent. 

Mr. Wang Shaojun—

Wang Shaojun passed away in April but announcement of his death was delayed for three months.  Why?  Wang headed the Central Security Bureau which guards Xi Jinping and other senior leaders.  He had managed the bureau since being appointed in 2015, shortly after Xi Jinping rose to his position.  The Central Security Bureau reports up directly to the Party General Office, which functions like a Chief of Staff office in other nations.  Wang was sent into the bureau to replace Cao Qing who was a protégé of Ling Jihua and Ling Jihua ran the Party General Office for China’s former President Hu Jintao.  In other words, Wang was sent to this important post to weed out influence of Ling Jihua who was under the influence of Hu Jintao.  Ling Jihua was eventually prosecuted for corruption and jailed for life.  Keep in mind that these are the people guarding China’s most senior leaders.  According to Xinhua, Wang died on April 26, 2023.  May he rest in peace!

Terms to Ponder

Food Security—

When this term is used in the West, it refers to support for poor nations suffering hunger and global effort to alleviate it.  When it is used in China it means the concept of not relying on imports of food from other nations but instead a focus on efforts to grow all the food itself that China needs.  From the CPC’s earliest days, securing food has been a major political pillar.  Today the fears are about “what if China’s global assertiveness resulted in sanctions of food imports to China?”  The challenge has always been that China has twenty-some percent of the world’s population but less than ten percent of the world’s arable land and usable water resources.  So, to achieve food security on its own requires China to have strict land-use policy and lots of support from the Central government.  This then trickles down to fundamental questions like who gets to decide how to use land, who gets to tell farmers what to grow and, if farmers grow low-profit grain, how to compensate them?  In some ways still talking about these questions puts China back at the days of ending the communes, Deng Xiaoping’s Household Responsibility System, and the openings days of the Reform and Opening Policy (1978).           

Lists

Some Causes of China’s Economic Slowdown

The world depends on China’s economy so when China emerged from COVID lockdowns with a surge of economic activity, there was a collective sigh of relief.  Then the surge flattened, then it dropped.  Caution warnings began to trickle out through the spring and then official half-year results in July confirmed what people were sensing–SLOWDOWN.  To the Chinese government’s credit, the response has been swift and surprisingly deep.  At least in announcements and promises.   Hopefully there will be actual follow-through.   Here are some reasons for the slowdown:

  • The harsh, unreasonable COVID lockdowns–often poorly executed–frightened people.  There will be some “revenge spending” but people are numb and focusing on protecting and tidying up their affairs, not on investing and expansion.
  • A “fool me once” backlash has been underway for a long time in China.  Radical and unpredictable policy changes have caught many companies—domestic and foreign, large and small, all private–by surprise.  And with devastating result.  This will not soon be forgotten.     
  • Everybody understands that there have to be rules and laws but in China these are often onerous, conflicting, and/or poorly written.  This did not matter so much when they were not enforced or when a company could sit across from regulators and have a reasonable discussion.  Now, because of fear of corruption allegations, there is no longer any discussion.  Everything is enforced.  So, even if one department tells you something one day and another department tell you the complete opposite the next, you are still on the hook.     
  • China has been mis-treating its foreigners for a long time.  Most have left.  Vibrant, thriving expat communities no longer exist in China.  Without people pushing “the China option” in countries and companies around the world, nothing happens. 
  • President Xi Jinping’s Work Report at the National People’s Congress last October mapped out a path that left many uncomfortable.  And they know he means it.

Unhelpful

The headline read: “China Has 10 Years Left, At Most — 100 Million Population Drop Could Lead To Economic Disaster, According To Famed Analyst.”  The famed analyst mentioned here is Peter Zeihan and the headline appeared in Benzinga.  Like Gordon G. Chang in 2011, Mr. Zeihan believes that China will collapse.  His thesis seems to be that the Chinese government has been under-reporting population by as much as 100 million and that this will cause a destabilization of the economy, leading to collapse. 

Glorious

Sanxingdui—

Sanxingdui refers to a culture that existed in China’s Sichuan province around 1,200 BC.  This is so old that it pushes near the time of the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties, truly ancient.  What survives of the Sanxingdui culture are bronze and gold masks and other artifacts.  These all have a very distinctive look, many with protruding eyes.  They are captivating.  Just the idea of looking at something that was crafted by human hands over 3,000 years ago is incredibly moving.

Related Content

CPI Newsletter 2023-8-13

One of the primary purposes of CPI is to prevent war between the West and China.  This is a really difficult task because humans love war. 

CPI Newsletter 2023-8-6

What if a senior leader in China decides their system is not better?
The argument that China’s system of government is better for China has been repeated for decades.

CPI Newsletter 2023-7-30

When Henry Kissinger met with President Xi Jinping in Beijing recently, Mr. Xi is quoted as saying “Looking ahead, China and the United States can help each other succeed and prosper together, and the key is to follow the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.”

Newsletters

Receive balanced news and commentary about China and the West.

"*" indicates required fields

Name*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.