“International discourse power”

Bill Bishop weighs in on NBA-gate:

The NBA has leverage in China, if it works as a united front. PRC fans, sponsors, web sites and broadcasters can shun one team, but they can not and will not shun an entire league. Do you really think those fans are going to be satisfied watching CBA games? There would be a social stability cost to banning the NBA in China. I am serious.

This NBA episode may backfire on Beijing here in the US as there is bipartisan outrage. That said, given the DC news cycle Commissioner Silver will likely remain much more worried about CCP Commissars than the US Congress.

The broader context for this crisis is that the CCP has long pushed to increase its “international discourse power 国际话语权“, and as with many things its efforts have intensified under Xi. The idea is that China’s share of international voice is not commensurate with its growing economic, military and cultural power and that the Party should have much more control over the global discussion of all things Chinese, in any language, anywhere.

The Party is taking at least a two-track approach to rectifying this problem. On the one hand it is launching, buying, co-opting and coercing overseas media outlets. On the other it uses the power of the Chinese market to co-opt and coerce global businesses, their executives and other elite voices. The Global Times summed up the second track nicely:

The biggest lesson which can be drawn from the matter is that entities that value commercial interests must make their members speak cautiously. Chinese consumers are not overly sensitive. Wherever it is, touching a raw political nerve is extremely risky. Morey has neither the IQ nor the EQ to talk about political topics. He will become an example of clumsiness on some MBA courses.

I must admit I find the patronizing rhetoric of Chinese state media to be greatly entertaining. “He will become an example of clumsiness on some MBA courses” is a powerful dig.

China’s attempts to police foreign discourse about it have also hit a rough patch in central Europe:

Prague’s decision to end its sister-city agreement with Beijing reflects “tangible anger” in the Czech Republic over the president’s pro-China policies, analysts say.

The Prague city council voted on Monday to pull out of the partnership deal after mayor Zdenek Hrib’s unsuccessful bid to get Beijing to remove a “one China” pledge from the agreement. He argued that the pledge – confirming Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan – was a political matter and unsuitable for inclusion in the sister-city deal because it was a cultural arrangement.

The decision, which still needs approval from the city assembly, was understood to have prompted heated exchanges between Chinese diplomats and Czech officials.

One Czech diplomat told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday that they had stressed it was a city-level decision.

It’s almost as if angrily demanding pledges of loyalty from everyone in the world is a suboptimal strategy for winning friends and influencing people. The Czechs are starting to wake up, apparently, and so are Americans.

Hurting their feelings

Imagine my shock that Joe Tsai, the Taiwanese-Canadian co-founder of Alibaba and owner of the Brooklyn Nets, is gravely displeased by a tweet posted (and quickly deleted) by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey:

Open letter to all NBA fans:

When I bought controlling interest in the Brooklyn Nets in September, I didn’t expect my first public communication with our fans would be to comment on something as politically charged and grossly misunderstood as the way hundreds of millions of Chinese NBA fans feel about what just happened.

By now you have heard that Chinese fans have reacted extremely negatively to a tweet put out by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of protests in Hong Kong.

The Rockets, who by far had been the favorite team in China, are now effectively shut out of the Chinese market as fans abandon their love for the team, broadcasters refuse to air their games and Chinese corporates pull sponsorships in droves.

Fans in China are calling for an explanation – if they are not getting it from the Houston Rockets, then it is natural that they ask others associated with the NBA to express a view.

The NBA is a fan-first league. When hundreds of millions of fans are furious over an issue, the league, and anyone associated with the NBA, will have to pay attention. As a Governor of one of the 30 NBA teams, and a Chinese having spent a good part of my professional life in China, I need to speak up.

What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues.

The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.

Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.

The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.

A bit of historical perspective is important. In the mid-19thcentury, China fought two Opium Wars with the British, aided by the French, who forced through illegal trade of opium to China. A very weak Qing Dynasty government lost the wars and the result was the ceding of Hong Kong to the British as a colony.

The invasion of Chinese territories by foreign forces continued against a weak and defenseless Qing government, which precipitated in the Boxer Rebellion by Chinese peasants at the turn of the 20th century. In response, the Eight Nations Alliance – comprised of Japan, Russia, Britain, France, United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary – dispatched their forces to occupy Chinese territories in the name of humanitarian intervention. The foreign forces marched into the Chinese capital Peking (now called Beijing), defeated the peasant rebels and proceeded to loot and pillage the capital city.

In 1937, Japan invaded China by capturing Beijing, Shanghai and the then-Chinese capital Nanjing. Imperial Japanese troops committed mass murder and rape against the residents of Nanjing, resulting in several hundred thousand civilian deaths. The war of resistance by the Chinese against Japan ended after tens of millions of Chinese casualties, and only after America joined the war against Japan post-Pearl Harbor.

I am going into all of this because a student of history will understand that the Chinese psyche has heavy baggage when it comes to any threat, foreign or domestic, to carve up Chinese territories.

When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation.

By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China. I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.

I hope to help the League to move on from this incident. I will continue to be an outspoken NBA Governor on issues that are important to China. I ask that our Chinese fans keep the faith in what the NBA and basketball can do to unite people from all over the world.

Sincerely,
Joe Tsai

Those of us who are familiar with China have received this history lesson before. Many times. And in a sense, the reaction of the fans is understandable. For other examples of this type of thing, see here, here, here and here.

Quote from the second link:

The Marriott International hotel chain has apologised and condemned “separatists” in China after the Beijing government shut down its website over an online questionnaire that suggested some Chinese regions were separate countries.

China’s Cyberspace Administration, the internet watchdog, said the hotelier had “seriously violated national laws and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” after a customer survey listed Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries. The regulator ordered Marriott’s website and booking applications to close for a week.

Note that phrase, “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”—another formulation that China watchers will be very familiar with—and compare to Tsai’s version:

When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation. […] the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.

Shame. Anger. Hurt feelings. Separatism. Opium Wars. This is what American companies must now deal with because, well, 1.4 billion customers. (China is the NBA’s largest international market.)

Here we see the clash between two different, utterly incompatible value systems, each with its own virtues and flaws, which are now mutually entangled in a way that never before would have been possible due to globalization. The increasing preposterousness of the situation suggests that a great Untangling is coming, and soon.

Fortune magazine sold

Chatchaval Jiaravanon

Chatchaval Jiaravanon

Fortune magazine has a new Thai owner:

Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon has acquired Fortune magazine for $150 million, in just the latest example of a U.S. business publication ending up in the hands of an East Asian buyer.

Be smart: The day might not be that far off when there are no major American-owned business publications at all. Even Business Insider is German.

Jiaravanon is a nephew of the famous billionaire and senior chairman of Thailand’s CP Group, Dhanin Chearavanont.

This continues a trend of Anglo-American media properties being sold off to Asian and European buyers. More from Axios:

The similar moves in the space:

Uzabase, a Japanese company, bought Quartz for about $100 million in July.

A mysterious Hong Kong-based group named Integrated Whale Media Investments bought control of Forbes magazine in 2014.

Lachlan Murdoch is openly wondering whether his father Rupert might sell the Wall Street Journal. Should that ever happen, don’t be surprised if that buyer, too, turns out to be East Asian.

I would add to that:

  • The Financial Times was sold to Japan’s Nikkei in 2015.
  • The Economist was sold to Italy’s Agnelli family, also in 2015.
  • Science magazines Nature and Scientific American are owned by Germany’s Holtzbrinck.
  • Book publishers Random House and Penguin – now combined as Penguin Random House – are subsidiaries of Germany’s Bertelsmann.
  • While we’re at it: the largest shareholder of the New York Times is Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

It’s not necessarily clear that all of these publishers can maintain their intellectual independence under foreign ownership, especially given the very different attitudes towards press freedom in certain Asian countries. For example, I noted last year that Forbes – having been swallowed by Hong Kong’s Integrated Whale Media – apparently told the prominent China skeptic Gordon Chang they were severing their relationship with him and wiping out his archive of articles. (However, his articles are still available on the site, so I’m not sure what the deal is there.) And Fortune will have to tread very carefully in its coverage of a certain southeast Asian monarch from now on…

Gabish?

Count on somebody who scores high on intellectual integrity and low on agreeableness to stand up to the grubby demands of a censorious printing company when, apparently, most authors would not:

The writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb has blasted Chinese printers with accusations of censorship, after the manuscript for a US edition of his 2012 book Antifragile was returned with the instruction to replace mentions of Taiwan with “China, Taiwan”.

The Lebanese-American author of bestseller The Black Swan, which predicted the 2008 global economic crash, posted on Twitter: “Printer of ‪#Antifragile in China asked me to replace ‘Taiwan’ w/‘China, Taiwan’. I (angrily) said ‘No censorship!’”

Taleb claimed he was not alone in being pressurised. “Most authors, I was told, complied. I assume hundreds kept their mouth shut. Not me,” he added.

And a more recent comment by Taleb:

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

@nntaleb
Note that my problem with Chinese printers was resolved amicably (they accepted) but I am SHOCKED that no other author had the guts to stand up to the weirdness Chinese censorship of a US book by a US author.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/14/nassim-nicholas-taleb-hits-out-at-chinese-printers-censorship-of-his-book?CMP=share_btn_tw …
8:34 PM – Jun 22, 2018

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

@nntaleb
2) People here aren’t getting the aberration:

+Book written in US; author in US; publisher in US; readers (of US edition) in US.
+Printed in China <=> Chinese censorship.
+Publishers & Authors find this NORMAL.

This is one side of Globalism Globalists need to explain.

Gabish?
10:32 PM – Jun 22, 2018

Note that the company in question is not a publisher, but rather, a printer. A printer’s job is to print, not make helpful edits to the content of what is printed. Apparently, the content of English-language books printed in China and intended for export falls under the purview of China’s censors.

Also, there is no such place as “China, Taiwan,” any more than there is a place called “US, New York.”

Shut down Confucius Institutes in the US

Why I gave up my academic freedom

This really isn’t that hard:

I’d been invited to give a keynote speech and accept an award at Savannah State University’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. In a description of my background, I’d listed the self-governing island as one of the places where I’d reported. But in the printed materials for the event, the reference to Taiwan had been removed.

The department had given the award annually since 1975. But in the past few years, finances had dwindled and organizers struggled to find the resources to cover the expenses of bringing in a speaker from out of town.

Enter the Confucius Institute, a Chinese government-affiliated organization that teaches Chinese language and culture and sponsors educational exchanges, with more than 500 branches around the globe. The branch at Savannah State, founded four years ago, agreed to sponsor the speech.

On campuses across the United States, funding gaps are leaving departments with little choice but to turn to those groups with the deepest pockets — and China is keen to offer money, especially through its global network of Confucius Institutes. But when academic work touches on issues the Chinese Communist Party dislikes, things can get dicey.

Indeed. Confucius Institutes are controlled (de facto) by the Communist Party of China, as part of a lavishly funded global propaganda effort. And the rationale for hosting these things always seems to boil down to money:

Savannah State University does not have a well-funded Asian studies department, and as university administrators told me when I was there, its students and members of the surrounding community have few opportunities to travel abroad. The young man working at the front desk of my hotel in Savannah told me he was going to China this summer with a dance troupe, on a trip sponsored by the Confucius Institute. Without institute funding, the dancers would probably never see China.

And so, schools like Savannah State must walk a fine line. “Often the American co-director is interested in supporting academic freedom and trying to manage the Confucius Institute in a way that is constructive,” says Peterson. Each Confucius Institute has two co-directors, one American and one Chinese. But that’s “really hard to do. And in some cases, well near impossible.”

Australia is even more willing to compromise on this issue:

In the US, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has led the charge against Confucius Institutes. In February, he wrote to four universities in Florida, urging them to terminate their agreements with Hanban in Beijing. Texas A&M University closed its Confucius Institute in April following a bipartisan recommendation from two congressmen. […]

Australian universities are different from their American counterparts, not least because of our tertiary sector’s greater dependence on Chinese international students. Rubio’s approach should have no sway here.

Strange. The county’s Confucius Institutes are designed to teach Australians, not Chinese. The large number of Chinese international students on Australian campuses is hardly relevant in this context, unless of course the implication is that Australia should be careful not to hurt those students’ feelings. In other words: “Nice $22 billion international education sector you’ve got there. Be a shame if something, you know, happened to it.”

In my China Matters brief I outline seven policy recommendations for Australian universities. Above all, those that host a Confucius Institute need to consider more stringent safeguards. Transparency is important to combat propaganda and will help assuage public concerns about Confucius Institutes.

I heartily agree that transparency is important, but the emphasis on combating propaganda and helping assuage public concerns is odd here. The purpose of transparency is more about preventing abuses and violations by the organization in question.

But university autonomy must be maintained, and Australia must avoid the precedent set in the US. The decision whether to extend or terminate an agreement with Hanban is a university’s alone to make. To uphold academic freedom means to safeguard campuses from undue government influence – be it from the PRC, the US, or even the Australian Government.

But shielding universities from US or Australian government influence evidently means exposing them to Communist Party influence. There is no neutral ground here and no way to avoid choosing sides.

Australians need opportunities to learn Mandarin, and Confucius Institutes provide classes taught by trained native speakers. Successive governments have committed to improving Asian literacy among Australians. But they have not – and in the foreseeable future will not – commit the needed millions of dollars to alternative Mandarin education.

For the time being, Confucius Institutes are an imperfect solution to help fill that need.

In other words: money, money, money.

Here’s three more words for you:

Shut. It. Down.

They found his lack of faith disturbing

There is some irony in the fact that China’s ruling party has outlived the Forbes career of Gordan “Collapse” Chang:

When a Chinese company buys a major American magazine, does the publication censor its coverage of China? There is only one example so far, and the results are discouraging. In 2014, a Hong Kong-based investment group called Integrated Whale Media purchased a majority stake in Forbes Media, one of the United States’ best-known media companies. It’s hard to demonstrate causality in such cases. But since that purchase, there have been several instances of editorial meddling on stories involving China that raise questions about Forbes magazine’s commitment to editorial independence.

On Oct. 9, longtime China commentator and Communist Party critic Gordon Chang received an email from Avik S.A. Roy, the opinion editor at Forbes. “Due to a wide-ranging reorganization of Forbes’ content,” Roy wrote, “we are going to be concluding our official relationship with you.” Roy added, “As a result of the organization, the articles you’ve written for us will no longer be stored on the Forbes server nor appear at Forbes.com,” according to the email Chang forwarded to me at my request.

Avik Roy, instrument of Gordan Chang’s collapse

I, for one, am amused to learn that a company called Integrated Whale Media exists. Regardless, this is a creepy case that may need to be added to our growing “Thought Policing by Remote Control” file (see also here, here and here).

Note the lack of an explanation for why Chang was cut loose and his articles erased (“Due to a wide-ranging reorganization of Forbes’ content” is not an explanation), combined with strong denials that any sort of censorship occurred.

Preemptive cross-border censorship

A particularly disturbing milestone:

LINDA MOTTRAM: Allen & Unwin’s decision to abandon publication of Clive Hamilton’s book is possibly a first. It seems no other Western publisher has previously, pre-emptively halted publication of a book in a Western market, because of pressure from China’s Communist Party.

Allen & Unwin say that threats of retaliation from China forced it to cancel plans to print “Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia into a Puppet State”.

So what is China’s motivation?

I spoke earlier to Professor Rory Medcalf, who’s head of the National Security College at the Australian National University in Canberra.

RORY MEDCALF: Well I think the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese leadership, is determined to reduce and supress criticism of its policies and of its authoritarian rule in other countries, particularly in other countries that are either allies of the United States, as Australia is; in other words, a country that can potentially band together with other countries to resist Chinese influence on the region.

But also, more importantly, countries like Australia where there is a large, diverse, dynamic Chinese population. China – or the Chinese Communist Party, I should say – is seeking to suppress criticism and dissent among those populations. […]

LINDA MOTTRAM: And so, you mentioned earlier this seems to have been a pre-emptive move.

There’s a suggestion of a legal threat of some sort over this book that Clive Hamilton has written, but there doesn’t seem to be anything specific.

Are they wanting to tie publishers up in court? […]

RORY MEDCALF: […] But if the details that we read today are true and that Allen & Unwin has taken this pre-emptive decision, it’s possibly the first time a Western publisher has pre-emptively chosen to stall or edit or censor what it’s doing in a Western democracy because of perceived Chinese Communist Party pressure.

And that would be a very worrying precedent for civil liberties and also for national security.

Just a couple of weeks ago we had the outcry over the Springer censorship in China, but this appears to go a lot further.

What’s happening with Allen & Unwin actually seems to be more along the lines of this case from last year, but without the mitigating circumstance that the publisher in question is simultaneously trying to run an NGO in China.

No articles for you

This appears to have touched a nerve, judging by the comments below the article (and elsewhere):

Springer Nature, the German group that bills itself the world’s largest academic book publisher, has blocked access in China to at least 1,000 articles, making it the latest international company to succumb to intensifying Chinese censorship demands.

Research by the Financial Times shows the publisher has removed more than 1,000 articles from the websites of the Journal of Chinese Political Science and International Politics, two Springer journals, in the Chinese market.

All of the articles in question contained keywords deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese authorities, including “Taiwan”, “Tibet” and “Cultural Revolution”. […]

The decision by Springer — which owns Nature magazine and Palgrave Macmillan books, and produces periodicals such as Scientific American — prompted anger from academics. It comes two months after Cambridge University Press acceded to similar pressures from Beijing, before reversing course after an intense backlash against its surrender of academic freedom. […]

Similar controversy has flared up over LexisNexis and Apple’s Chinese app store. Western organizations that deal with China in any capacity face an increasingly stark choice…

Thought policing by remote control

Interesting discussion on whether free speech on American campuses can withstand Chinese nationalism:

Earlier this week, Kunming native Yang Shuping, a student at the University of Maryland, gave a commencement speech extolling the “fresh air” and “free speech” she experienced while studying in the United States. Video of her speech spread on the Internet, and Yang and her family found themselves under attack by fellow Chinese students in the U.S. and a chorus of critics on Chinese social media, who argued—at times viciously—that she had betrayed her country. Yang then apologized for the speech and asked for “forgiveness from the public.” Why was she attacked? What do her speech and the reaction it engendered reveal (or obscure) about the experiences of Chinese students on American campuses, and what do they portend for the future of academic freedom in the U.S.? To what extent is Chinese nationalism reshaping university life in America?

The answer would appear to be no.

Related:

But the environmental NGOs don’t usually hesitate to confront governments. For example, Greenpeace activists scaled an oil rig in 2012 to protest Russian drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The WWF and Greenpeace even spoke out against Chinese-government subsidies that have resulted in destructive overfishing, especially off the coast of West Africa.

So why didn’t they utter a peep about China’s degradation of the South China Sea?

Knowing when to keep their mouths shut seems to be the price these organizations must pay to enjoy the good will of Beijing. It’s one thing to offer respectful criticism over Chinese fishing subsidies within the bounds that the Communist Party tolerates as a social safety valve. But it’s another matter entirely to condemn the crimes that China is committing in the South China Sea, a position that would infuriate the Politburo.