The People’s Republic of China recorded its 70th anniversary at its strongest and most prosperous, but also amid a slowing economy, increased international wariness of its ambitions, and deepening repression. President Xi Jinping maintained a largely non-confrontational approach to the Trump administration’s provocations; official rhetoric instead galvanized China to take advantage of a period of strategic opportunity on the global stage.
Hong Kong experienced unprecedented protests, initially prompted by the government’s plan to adopt an extradition law, since withdrawn, that opponents feared would allow mainland China to erode the territory’s freedoms. The territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, through her own political misjudgment and constraints imposed by Beijing, proceeded to compound the public’s disaffection, dismissing demands such as an independent inquiry into police brutality, despite their broad public support. The protesters, a leaderless movement organized via the internet, employed shifting tactics and creative appeals to attract local and global support. Throughout the summer large, peaceful daytime protests alternated with sometimes fierce evening clashes with police; violence continued to escalate through the fall.
It has been one year since the release of “China’s Influence and American Interests,” a report produced and endorsed by many of America’s leading China experts, which warned of a coordinated effort to co-opt and coerce the political, academic, and economic institutions of the United States and other open societies in directions more favorable to Beijing. The anniversary of the report is an opportunity to assess what new information has been learned and whether any of the vulnerabilities flagged by the report have been addressed.
The report emphasized the distinction between legitimate public diplomacy efforts, which includes state-run media outlets such as CGTN, and illegitimate efforts at interference, defined by former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull as activities that are “covert, coercive, or corrupting.” The report also stressed that because China often targets Chinese communities abroad, regardless of their citizenship, more should be done to protect and defend the rights of Chinese-Americans and nationals in the United States against encroachment by Beijing.
The social media app TikTok has been downloaded more than 80 million times in the United States, as users entertain each other with an endless stream of short videos recommended by artificial intelligence. Its success makes it the most popular social media app in America produced by a Chinese company. A new survey for China Books Review finds that few Americans are aware of the app’s ownership, but if they were to learn the app was Chinese, many would be less likely to use it.
Only 24% of respondents correctly answered that the app’s owners were based in China, worse than had the respondents answered at random. 33% of respondents said they would be somewhat or significantly less likely to use the app if they knew the app was made by a Chinese company, compared to 21% if they knew it was by an American company, just within the margin of error. When asked how the country of origin would affect how they thought about the privacy of their information on the app, users were also more likely to be concerned if they knew the app was made by a Chinese company than an American one.
It’s been a breakout year of sorts for Asian and Asian-American rappers alike. New York City rapper and television personality, Awkwafina, née Nora Lum, is co-starring in the all-female Ocean’s Eight remake alongside marquee names such as Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. In the spring, a group of Chinese rappers dropped a diss track against America’s antimissile system in South Korea, which, despite the laughter it triggered, was a win for the propaganda apparatus simply by being noticed. And earlier this week, Korean-American rapper Jay Park signed with Roc Nation, the label founded by Jay-Z and home to artists including Rihanna. “This is a win for Korea,” he wrote on Instagram. “This is a win for Asian Americans. This is a win for the overlooked and underappreciated.”
The first election in which I was old enough to vote, I found myself in Shanghai. When the absentee ballot arrived, I passed it flippantly to my language tutor, telling her to vote. “It may be the only time you get to do it,” I teased. I remember her fascination with my state’s ballot initiatives and her delight in my being one small vote in favor of gay marriage, in-state tuition for undocumented migrants – which I explained by use of China’s hukou system as metaphor – and against gambling.
Throughout the campaign, I remember being grateful for the objective remove – away from the negative advertisements and talk shows and with only the certain words of the New York Times. When Obama won reelection in 2012, I felt pride in my country, relief that his first victory had not been a fluke, that this was truth of America’s hopefulness and confidence in the future. This time was different.
After twenty-two years of debate, the United Nations on October 25, 1971 voted to expel Chiang Kaishek’s Republic of China and seat Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic. That vote, made only months before Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit China, would close one chapter of world history and affirm the beginning of China’s reopening to the world. As the first and only decision to effectively expel a member of the United Nations, the vote also marked an important coming of age for the United Nations as a body willing to act independently of the United States.
If one were to explore the upper reaches of the cable television universe between the hours of 7 and 9pm Eastern, they might be mistaken for thinking they had stumbled upon a public television broadcast of BBC World News. They would see the same modern, red graphics; an international ensemble of anchors and guests; and a stately presentation free of soundbites and focused on the hard news that never quite make American nightly newscasts at all or with any real appreciation of their complexity. But it wouldn’t be the BBC’s logo that one would see, but that of CCTV: China Central Television, live, in English, broadcasting from Washington, and with every intention of not only superficially modeling the BBC, but ultimately rivaling its influence in every corner of the globe.
Since the normalization of relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States, China, consistent with the normal practice of international relations, has traditionally engaged the US political system through the executive branch. In the past decade, however, China has initiated efforts to significantly deepen its relationship with Congress. The intensification of Chinese engagement with Congress is driven in part by a shift in the nature of economic relations between the two nations as Chinese entities seek to enter the US market, but is also attributable to a moderation in support from US corporations which have historically lobbied on China’s behalf. Despite China’s heightened engagement with Congress, its influence remains modest. Going forward, the risk of more volatile bilateral relations driven by hostile congressional actions would suggest the need for further cultivation of Sino-Congressional relations – not simply for China’s sake – but for that of the US as well.