China begins 2018 as a global great power, a position it has not held since the early 1800s, when the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) was at its strongest. The government in Beijing is led by the most confident Chinese politician since Mao Zedong. His domestic and global agenda seem to appeal to many Chinese citizens and much of the Party elite. This is a reality that many in the West have not yet understood, but will be forced to face in the coming years.
Thus begins the 2018 SupChina Red Paper, a 25-page report — all original content — on the most important news from China in 2017 — Mar-a-Lago, TPP, the 19th Party Congress, Liu Xiaobo, North Korea, Guo Wengui, AI, anticorruption, Tencent’s terrific year, the Paris Agreement, and so much more — plus a look ahead at what promises to be an eventful and momentous 2018.
What’s in the Red Paper, and why should you download it (for the low cost of $8.88)? For that, we brought in the Red Paper’s two principal authors, SupChina editor-in-chief Jeremy Goldkorn and news editor Lucas Niewenhuis, to share some insight.
Disembodied inquisitor: Why $8.88?
Jeremy: As our readers probably all know, eight is a lucky number in China, and its use suggests someone might get rich. Obviously, we hope to make money, but we also believe that our concise report is a wealth of information that will expand your mind, and give you the background knowledge you need if you are trying to expand your investments in China.
I mean, why not just free?
Lucas: For one, it will support our work. And although we have social and cultural goals such as increased understanding between China and the rest of the world, we’re a for-profit company.
But why should YOU spend your money on it? Because too much happens in China on a daily basis, let alone a yearly one, for anyone to keep track of. The Red Paper — like SupChina itself — is unique in that it covers not just the big trends in China’s politics and business, but also underappreciated shifts in society and culture and how they all tie together. The Red Paper gives you a comprehensive look at China news in 2017, and will put everything that happens in 2018 into context.
Jeremy: Whether you’re an investor, a student, or a scholar, we think you’ll find this an informative but easy read, and a handy reference guide for the future. If you buy it and are not satisfied with it, please email me personally (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will buy you lunch or dinner the next time I am in your city or our paths cross elsewhere.
What was the most difficult part of putting this document together?
Lucas: The year 2017 was fire and fury. We think it will be seen as a defining year for China, and not just because Donald Trump made it easier for China to look like a leader. But what else was a “defining moment” for the country? The hardest part for me was sorting through the many hundreds of stories that SupChina covered in 2017 to figure out which were significant enough to be summarized, and then to select just a handful that ascended to the level of country- or world-changing.
What can 2018 do to top this?
Jeremy: One of the topics we cover in the Red Paper is artificial intelligence. The year 2017 was when the world began to take China’s AI ambitions seriously. In the Red Paper, we conclude that the country is already a leading AI power. So, right now, I’m thinking that to top 2017, Skynet should become conscious in 2018, and then things will really get interesting.
Lucas: Donald Trump could continue being America’s president. And really could start a trade war — or worse.
What was your favorite moment from China news in 2017?
Jeremy: That would have to be the propaganda videos “Belt and Road rap song” and “Cash for spies!” I was fascinated by In the Name of the People (人民的名义 rénmín de míngyì), the TV series that premiered in March on Hunan TV, one of China’s most popular and feistiest channels. Produced by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), the show features guns, bedrooms piled high with cash, officials in bed with foreign mistresses, and a crack team of investigators rooting out corruption at the highest levels of government.
These miscellanea from state media and propaganda organizations are by no means the most significant news items of 2017 — for that, you’ll have to buy our Red Paper — but they all tell us something interesting about how the Chinese government sees itself, what it says to its citizens, and how it wants to communicate beyond its borders.
Lucas: Mine is also a state media story. I was fascinated by the way that the People’s Daily fought back against “demotivational culture,” and how young people on the internet responded with even more wry humor. (See a great story on it by my colleague Jiayun Feng here.)
The Red Paper provides an outlook for the year ahead. Let’s not talk specifics (people can download the document for that). Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about the direction that China is going in? Feel free to come at this from any angle.
Jeremy: I am optimistic about China’s economic health and political stability in 2018, and its continued progress in scientific, medical, and technical innovation. We will see some extraordinary companies and inventions come from China, and some of them might happen in the next 12 months. When it comes to China-developed financial technology, pharma and biotech, AI, self-driving cars, drones, new energy, trains, planes, and automobiles, I could not be more bullish.
But I am very pessimistic about the tightening restraints on cultural activities, media, and civil society. I believe such controls are only going to get tighter and tighter, like an icy hand slowly strangling the throat of someone who tries to sing from the wrong songbook.
Lucas: I agree with Jeremy on those points, and I’ll add one more: I am optimistic about the future health of the environment in China. This definitely fits into the form (coined by Bill Gates) of an issue where people overestimate how much change can happen in two years, but underestimate how much change can happen in 10 years. I think with the 19th Party Congress’s emphasis on environmental justice, the planned rollout of a carbon market, and the incredible development of renewable energy and electric cars, China is firmly on a 10-year trajectory to substantially clean up its air pollution (other forms of pollution will be more tricky) and change not just its own path, but also the world’s path on environmental protection.