Editor’s note for Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A note from today's editor of the SupChina Access newsletter.

Dear Access member,

Some things to think about today:

TikTok troubles: On May 19 this year, we learned that the Chinese-owned video app TikTok had hired Kevin Mayer, a rock star businessman from The Walt Disney Company to be CEO. That day, I asked if an all-American frat boy from Disney could cut it at a Chinese company like TikTok? Previous examples of Westerners in similar positions, like ex-Googler Hugo Barra, who joined Chinese mobile phone company Xiaomi for a short time, suggested to me that Kevin Mayer’s employment at TikTok may be a short-term phenomenon.

I wonder what Mayer is thinking today, as the American president and his secretary of state both strongly suggest that a ban on the popular app may be in the works — see our top story below (or read it on our website here). On the other hand, perhaps this is Mayer’s big opportunity. It seems difficult to believe that TikTok will be allowed to operate without hindrance in the U.S. Maybe the only viable future for TikTok is for its parent company, ByteDance, to sell it to an American tech or media giant, and then let Mayer continue running it.  

“Thoroughly remove tumors…scraping poison off of one’s bones” — this is the strong language from an announcement (in Chinese) of a new “education and rectification” campaign launched today by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which supervises the police and the courts. Bloomberg says this points “to a fresh corruption purge” by General Secretary Xí Jìnpíng 习近平.

My interpretation: With a world preoccupied by COVID-19 and discontent at or around nearly all of China’s borders, Xi is coming out swinging on all fronts, from Hong Kong to the Indian border. He might as well do a little additional cleaning house at home too, both to keep the cadres on their toes, and to eliminate a few political enemies.

America’s lousy math and artificial intelligence: In the global race for AI supremacy, the U.S. and China are the only real players.

The U.S. will fall behind, argues Michael Auslin in a new essay, not just because it does not have as much data to process as China does, but because “American secondary school and university students are not mastering the fundamental math that prepares them to move into the type of advanced fields, such as statistical theory and differential geometry, that makes AI possible.”

Our word of the day is National Special Fund for the Development of the Film Industry: 国家电影事业发展专项资金 guójiā diànyǐng shìyè fāzhǎn zhuānxiàng zījīn (see story two below, or the longer version on our website).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief