China and America: Where Are We Going?
I am concerned. About America. About China. About the evolution of our bilateral relationship after four decades of formal relations. About the vitriol and blowback people and organizations trying to further substantive dialogue face. About what this could mean for my family.
The China Project, formerly SupChina, folded suddenly last week. Evolving from a newsletter back in 2016, the organization grew and developed into a respected media vehicle for real conversation about China and America and the interplay between the two. They didn’t pull punches against either country. They offered both sides of many stories. They were not perfect, but perfect is the enemy of good (Voltaire) as well as progress (Churchill).
I knew they were challenged with lawsuits. I knew that certain GOP Senators have essentially labeled the organization “China lapdogs.” I knew as well that the platform was banned in China because of perceived anti-China bias. If you are pissing off both sides, you are probably doing something right, no? When I first heard the news, I double and triple-checked it because it seemed unreal.
What I have learned in the last week from reading court documents and various articles is that the challenges were becoming suffocating. Advertisers were dropping. A crowdfunding round from last year (full disclosure: I am a minor, very minor, investor, or at least was, in TCP) raised a good deal of money, but obviously not enough. The organization relied on grant funding to survive. They lost a major grant. And there you have it.
I have served on (albeit nonprofit) Boards of Directors over the years. I know that things do not happen on a dime. I presume TCP knew this was a possibility. In fact, they had obviously planned for it because the announcement on November 6, 2023, was well-thought out and well-written. Timing for such an announcement can never be good. But this came just four days after the conclusion of TCP’s annual Next China Conference. A bitter day following a fulfilling event.
The China Project was a well-run and sophisticated organization bringing in-depth and considered news, analysis, and opportunity to the delicate and anxious U.S.-China situation. Money talks. In this case, money walked.
Shaun Rein is an American entrepreneur and author who lives in China. He runs the China Market Research Group. He is a strategic market researcher who has been promoting doing business in China since 2005. He gives talks to corporations, writes books, and has also become a go-to for quotes and interviews by the media on China.
Shaun is highly critical of America (and rightly so). He is softer in his criticisms of China, though they are there to an extent. Shaun shouts himself blue in the face arguing that people need to understand the on-the-ground situation in China as opposed to how the western media portrays China. He has recently commented that certain U.S. media platforms are banning him because he does not take a rigid, anti-China line of attack.
People-to-people contacts between China and America have plummeted. Most American reporters were expelled from China early in Covid. American post-Covid tourism in China is insignificant. The political relationship does seem to be stabilizing at least for the short term. Xi Jinping and Joe Biden plan to meet at the APEC Conference in San Francisco tomorrow. Each side is playing its own game. No one expects breakthroughs. This being said, even a meeting in these wobbly times is an achievement.
Brian and Jeanee Linden have made their adult lives and business in southwestern China. They created the Linden Centre and now operate several culturally-immersive hotels in China. In a LinkedIn post about an article discussing their past successes and current worries about the future (the article ironically being published on The China Project website on November 7, 2023). Brian writes
[O]ur hotels are social enterprises, vehicles through which we hope to affect rural development and people-to-people diplomacy. It is a very delicate balance we must strike in China, but our two decades of achievements and our future projects demonstrate that even the smallest entities can have an impact.
John Thornton is the Director of the Global Leadership Program at Tsinghua University in Beijing and former President of Goldman Sachs. Earlier this year he gave a talk entitled “Navigating the Future of US-China Relations” at the University of Texas at Austin. He had this to say about the U.S.-China relationship:
So this topic [U.S-China] as we all know is so complicated and/or toxic and/or hyperbolic and/or all kinds of negative emotions that my real goal today is to conduct this conversation in such a way as to inspire or catalyze greater curiosity on the part of every one of you on this topic.
We should all remain curious. And engaged.