Editor’s note for Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A note for Access newsletter readers from Jeremy Goldkorn. Today: At the World Economic Forum, Xi Jinping warns against countries like the U.S. building "exclusive yards with high walls," even as Beijing builds its Great Firewall ever higher; meanwhile, in the U.S., there is a flourishing industry of professional China threat-mongers.

editor's note for Access newsletter

Our word of the day is exclusive yards with high walls, the official translation of a phrase (小院高墙 xiǎoyuàn gāoqiáng) from a speech delivered by video call to the World Economic Forum at Davos on Monday by Xí Jìnpíng 习近平.

You can read the whole speech here (or here in Chinese). There is not one thing surprising about anything he says.

Xi used the phrase “exclusive yards with high walls” in a section on the “need to discard Cold War mentality and seek peaceful coexistence and win-win outcomes.” He was of course referring to America as the country seeking to build “exclusive yards” — such as the AUKUS security pact — that exclude China.

The Chinese phrase “小院高墙” seems to be a translation from the English “small yard, high fence,” which entered the news media’s vocabulary last year shortly after Biden took office. This is how Caixin defined it in February 2021:

The approach, which has circulated among Beltway policy wonks for some time, does not completely reject the need to exclude some Chinese tech companies from U.S. markets. But instead of adopting Trump’s scorched-earth tactics, it calls for defining in precise terms which technologies are key to American national interests and taking action to protect them from excessive Chinese influence.

But reading Xi’s speech, and particularly the official English translation of the phrase as “exclusive yards with high walls,” I couldn’t help but think of the Great Firewall that Beijing is building ever higher. And now COVID prevention measures are closing more and more of China’s gates to the outside world, and some of its young people are turning dramatically inwards.

Meanwhile, in America, there has arisen a lucrative industry of professional China threat-mongers. Most of the active participants in this industry look a bit like me: middle-aged white dudes, although they tend to be either paunchier or whinier than I am. And they really do seem to be into it for the money and the clicks.

And so the Year of the Ox closes with stubborn whimpers of misunderstanding everywhere you look.

We’ll aim to counteract misinformation from Beijing, prejudiced and compromised fear mongering from Washington, D.C., and obfuscation from all around the planet in the Year of the Tiger, which begins on February 1.

So thank you so much for your support, which allows us to bring you trusted information about China, without fear or favor. And please write to me by replying to any of these daily emails when you think we’ve got something wrong, big or small. Your feedback is invaluable.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief