Not with a bang but a whimper

Access Archive

1. The trade war is on hold, back to status quo ante

Xinhua News Agency reports: “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy and Vice Premier Liu He 刘鹤 said [in Washington, D.C.,] Saturday that China and the United States have reached consensuses on economic and trade issues, pledging not to engage in a trade war.” Liu called the result a “win-win choice.” The New York Times saw it differently (paywall):

Chinese negotiators left Washington this weekend with a significant win: a willingness by the Trump administration to hold off for now on imposing tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese imports. China gave up little in return, spurning the administration’s nudges for a concrete commitment to buy more goods from the United States, and avoiding limits on its efforts to build new high-tech Chinese industries.

  • The South China Morning Post agreed, arguing, “From intellectual property to the trade gap, China appears to have given a little, but got a lot in return.”

  • The Trump administration has pushed back against this notion: The South China Morning Post reports that the president himself claimed earlier today that China had agreed to buy “massive amounts” of American agricultural products — “practically as much as our farmers can produce” — while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “said the talks has yielded tangible benefits, adding that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would make a follow-up visit to Beijing next week to put a framework agreement in place.”

  • “There’s no agreement for a deal,” clarified White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow to ABC, adding, “There’s a communique between the two great countries, that’s all.”

  • Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon “condemned a weekend truce in the U.S. trade dispute with China as a capitulation, signaling dissatisfaction among the president’s allies,” according to Bloomberg.

Commentary — what happened?

Why did Trump back down and what is actually going on? The internet suggests a few possibilities:

  • Chinese social media users have been sharing an image (reproduced above) that contrasts the scene at the weekend’s trade negotiations with a photo of Chinese officials signing an agreement to end the Boxer Rebellion in 1901, one of the lowest points of China’s “Century of Humiliation.” In the earlier photo, the Chinese negotiators are a crew of silver-haired ancients; in this weekend’s photo, it’s the Americans who sent their elderly. See the New York Times (paywall) for more, or one of the original Chinese Weibo posts and comments (in Chinese).

  • Economist Paul Krugman tweeted four possible reasons for Trump’s change of heart:

    1. Someone finally explained the economics to Trump.
    2. Trump just lost his nerve.
    3. Trump got a personal payoff.
    4. The Chinese also have a tape.
    The thing is, while 1 is wildly implausible, 2-4 all seem quite possible.

  • “A trade war means the Dow goes down, way down. And aside from blonde bimbos and Fox and Friends, the stock markets are the only thing Trump cares about.” That is an explanation I heard in January for why Trump would not be able to follow through on tariff threats. Sure enough, “Stocks rise, investors cheer easing trade tensions” is today’s note from Bloomberg at the close of the Asian and U.S. markets.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. China reaches for dark side of the moon

China has long been playing catch-up to the U.S. and Russia in the space race. It leveled with them in two key metrics in the past 15 years, by putting a man into space in 2003, and achieving a soft lunar landing in 2013.

The long march to space has continued — the country launched its second iteration of a space station, Tiangong-2, in 2016, and is making progress toward a permanently manned station by 2022. Today brings news of yet another milestone:

  • A satellite bound to orbit the moon named Queqiao (鹊桥 quèqiáo; “magpie bridge”) blasted off from Sichuan Province on May 21, the Guardian reports.

  • The name “comes from a Chinese folk story in which an arc formed by birds reunites two lovers separated by the heavens,” the Guardian explains. The name of that story is The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl (牛郎织女 niúláng zhīnǚ).

  • Queqiao will connect the dark side of the moon to a signal from Earth, allowing China’s Chang’e 4, a lunar lander and rover, to later this year explore a part of the moon where not even robots have gone before.

  • State media pumped up the satellite news with a four-minute video (in Chinese) of the preparations for and footage of the launch, plus video graphics showing the satellite’s function.

But it’s not just the Chinese government’s space program that is accelerating — private firms are shooting for the sky, too.

  • OneSpace became the first private Chinese company to launch a payload-carrying rocket last week. See a video of the launch on SupChina.

  • i-Space launched a lighter rocket last month, sans payload, beating OneSpace to the punch for being the “first private Chinese company to launch a space rocket.”

  • Both of these are private, Beijing-based startups, and while there is no doubting the talent on their engineering teams, aerospace experts told both AFP and CNN that these companies had “cut corners.”

  • “Onespace and iSpace…[used] retired Chinese missiles,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP.

  • At SupChina’s NEXT CHINA conference in January, former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao said that we are beginning to see startup companies in space technology in China, but so far, they are lacking technical experience and realistic plans.

—Lucas Niewenhuis


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Huangshan mist

Fog and mist surround Huangshan, a mountain range in southern Anhui Province. The area is well known for its scenic features such as hot springs, pine trees, and the “sea of clouds,” or yunhai (云海 yúnhǎi).

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