Editor’s note for Thursday, July 23, 2020

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

In today’s newsletter:  

  • China is enemy number one: Mike Pompeo gives a speech.
  • China’s first Mars mission launches.
  • Court denies divorce to woman after she was paralyzed from a jump to escape domestic violence.
  • Why China’s housing complexes are designed to fall apart.
  • Much more news that we link to at the bottom half of the email.  

My thoughts today:

The daily escalation of U.S.-China tensions continues apace. After yesterday’s news that the U.S. ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Party propagandist and Global Times editor Hú Xījìn 胡锡进 tweeted, “Based on what I know, China will announce countermeasure on Friday Beijing time. One US consulate in China will be asked to close.”

That seems certain, but we still do not know which consulate will be chosen: Wuhan, Chengdu, or Sichuan — which would be more or less equivalent to Houston, or the much larger operations in Guangzhou, Shanghai, or Hong Kong. Yesterday, Hu tweeted, “As staff has not returned to Wuhan consulate [after COVID-19], a closure would not be an equivalent countermeasure compared with U.S. bullying tactics.”

Today, Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State completed a speech on China that set out an agenda for a Cold War 2.0 between China and the U.S. Or was it? Perhaps it’s just Cold War 1.0, part two.

The Cold War never really ended, argues Adam Tooze in the London Review of Books, in one of the more perspicacious articles I have seen on this subject. Have a think about this:

The mistake in thinking that we are in a ‘new Cold War’ is in thinking of it as new. In putting a full stop after 1989 we prematurely declare a Western victory. From Beijing’s point of view, there was no end of history, but a continuity — not unbroken, needless to say, and requiring constant reinterpretation, as any live political tradition does, but a continuity nevertheless. Although American hawks have only a crude understanding of China’s ideology, on this particular matter they have grasped the right end of the stick. We have to take seriously the CCP’s sense of mission. We should not comfort ourselves with the thought that because nationalism is the main mode of Chinese politics today, Xi’s administration is nothing more than a nationalist regime. China under the control of the CCP is, indeed, involved in a gigantic and novel social and political experiment enrolling one-sixth of humanity, a historic project that dwarfs that of democratic capitalism in the North Atlantic.

But to acknowledge that there are real ideological stakes is not automatically to accept that the U.S. and its allies should gird themselves for ‘victorious’ confrontation with the communist foe. Even the Trump administration’s own strategic statements on China sensibly stop short of any talk of regime change. Having recognised what ought to have been obvious all along — that China’s regime is serious about maintaining and expanding its power and conceives of itself as having a world historic mission to rival anything in the history of the West — the question is how rapidly we can move to détente, meaning long-term co-existence with a regime radically different from our own, a long-term attitude of ‘live and let live,’ shorn of assumptions about eventual convergence and the inevitable historical triumph of the West’s economic, social and political system. It would be a long-term co-existence, in which, over time, the U.S. may well find that it has become the junior partner or, at best, the leader of a coalition of smaller powers balancing the massive weight of China.

Our word of the day is Mike Pompeo: 邁克•蓬佩奧 màikè péngpèi’ào.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief