Hurricanes, Uighurs, Where’s the Beef? and the Week in Review
Happy Friday, dear comrades.
First of all, our thoughts are with all the folks affected by Hurricane Laura. There are any countless number of crazy and terrible things happening in the world right now (including Typhoon Bavi bearing down on the already flood-stricken Korean Peninsula), but Laura hit a bit too close to home to those of us here at Perch Perspectives with strong ties to both Texas and Louisiana. Unfortunately, we may be in store for more storms like Laura in the future. Laura originated in the Atlantic before rapidly strengthening to a category 4 hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters. Studies have shown the water in the western Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean have been steadily increasing for decades and abnormally warm temperatures were recorded in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. The last time Gulf of Mexico waters were similarly warm was 2017 – the same year Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc. Last week we devoted a section of the Week in Review to the intersection of climate change and geopolitics, and Laura drives home how seriously we need to take these issues in order to preserve our way of life.
On a second and happier note – please check out the latest episode of our podcast, “The Perch Pod,” by clicking here. We were lucky enough to be joined by Rui Mai, who has her own newsletter and podcast called Tech Buzz China (which you can check out by clicking here). If you have been reading about TikTok or its Chinese parent company Bytedance in the news lately and you don’t feel like you have a grasp of what it is, you’re in luck, as in addition to being an experienced and savvy Chinese tech analyst, Rui is one of the most knowledgeable folks out there writing about Bytedance. We had a great conversation about 5G, semiconductors, TikTok, Rui’s insights into China’s tech culture, and a bunch of other important topics, so we highly suggest not missing out on this episode and sharing widely with anyone interested in how and why tech has become the focal point of the U.S.-China relationship. Also, if you missed our deep dive into U.S. relations with Latin America earlier this week, we suggest checking it out by clicking here. “Near-shoring” is the fad you never knew about and is about to be all the rage.
Wear your masks. Register to vote. Be good to each other. Here’s the Week in Review!
What’s in a word? Andrew Bates, the Director of Rapid Response for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, gave the following statement to Axios about China’s treatment of its ethnic Muslim minority Uighurs in Xinjiang province: “The unspeakable oppression that Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide and Joe Biden stands against it in the strongest terms. If the Trump administration does indeed choose to call this out for what it is, as Joe Biden already did, the pressing question is what will Donald Trump do to take action. He must also apologize for condoning this horrifying treatment of Uighurs.” The bombshell statement came after two Trump administration officials told Politico that the Trump administration was considering labeling China’s repression of Uighurs a “genocide.”
What it means:
The short version: If Biden wins in November, his administration will not be any softer on China than the Trump administration. If anything, it will be tougher, especially on issues pertaining to human rights and on assembling regional and global coalitions against Chinese political influence and economic power.
The longer version: Explicitly labeling China’s repression of its Uighur population a “genocide” would be a significant escalation in U.S.-China relations. Genocide is not just the strongest descriptor one can use to describe a campaign to wipe out an ethnic group. It carries a tangible legal and political weight as well. The first known use of the word “genocide” appeared in print in 1944 in a book entitled “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe” by Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin. Genocide combines the Greek word genos, which Lemkin translated as “race or tribe” and the Latin-derived suffix cide – derived from the verb caedere – which means “to slaughter.”
Lemkin believed Nazi Germany’s campaign to exterminate Jews, Roma, and other subnational populations was not just uniquely evil. He believed it was an example of a qualitatively different kind of state attack on a group of people that must never be allowed to happen again. He believed the best way to prevent genocide from happening was to create an international legal framework around the concept of “genocide” that would make it a violation of international law. After World War II ended, the newly formed United Nations took up the mantle of genocide, broadening its definition and passing the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which committed member-states to take “such action under the Charter of the UN as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.”
The existence of the convention has not stopped genocides from continuing to occur – in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and in Sudan, to name just a few recent examples. Nor has it stopped genocide from becoming a politicized concept rather than the universal rallying cry against humanity at its worst that it was intended to become. China, of course, denies that it is doing anything wrong. The People’s Daily routinely publishes articles in which it claims it is merely “safeguarding Xinjiang people’s human rights by guaranteeing their well-being.” There has been evidence of what China is actually doing in Xinjiang since 2018 and it looks nothing like guaranteeing the well-being or human rights of Uighurs but we’d be lying if we said we knew exactly what was going on in Xinjiang, however disturbing the evidence we can see is.
What we can add is that labeling China’s treatment of its Uighur population a genocide would not just be a simple statement. It would set the international legal framework Lemkin helped envision and design in motion. The U.S. has demonstrated how effective it can be at inflicting damage on China’s pain points with its anti-Huawei sanctions and its attempt to build a global coalition against Huawei. The anti-Huawei campaign has been heavy-handed, often unilateral, and promises to slow down 5G rollouts across the world…and yet despite these limitations it is still drawing blood. Truly treating Xinjiang like a genocide – not just calling it one on the campaign trail – could mean substantially broadening the U.S. campaign against China to include numerous other sectors and countries and essentially treating China like a pariah on the world stage.
Where’s the beef? Argentina surged barley exports to China as a result of the deterioration of China-Australia trade ties. Meanwhile, poor weather conditions in Argentina also indicated potential yield losses of up to 50 percent. China bought a record amount of beef from the U.S. in the last week and has increased its purchases of U.S. pork and corn. The U.S. and the EU announced a limited tariff reduction agreement to include the EU eliminating tariffs on imports of U.S. live and frozen lobster products (worth $111 million in 2017). In a separate decision, the European Union eliminated its corn import tariff due to higher corn prices.
What it means:
China was already Argentina’s second-largest trade partner in 2019, with Brazil topping the list. But the combination of COVID-19 disruptions and political tensions between the ideologically opposed Fernández and Bolsonaro governments has led to China overtaking Brazil as Argentina’s largest trading partner. Now, with the Australia-China trade relationship continuing to deteriorate after China targeted Australian barley, beef, and wine, Argentina is reaping the benefits, off-setting in part some of the poor weather conditions leading to forecasts of a smaller crop this year. China and Argentina also recently announced a decision to move forward with a joint venture for space exploration and in one of the starkest examples of vaccine nationalism we have yet observed, Argentina announced with Mexico that it would produce the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for Latin America in Argentina and Mexico. These sorts of shifts would normally take years to unfold, but COVID-19 makes time do strange things.
China’s agricultural purchases may seem strange on the surface and they certainly do not comport with China’s rhetoric against U.S. sanctions or firing off test missiles in the South China Sea. China, however, is still invested in the Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal after finally getting a meeting with U.S. trade representative Robert E. Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for a check-in this week. After the meeting, the U.S. said “both sides see progress and are committed to taking steps necessary to ensure the success of the agreement.” In the short-term, this is good news for American farmers, who have suffered from the U.S.-China trade war and have ample supply of things China needs, especially in light of China’s own poor weather conditions thus far this year. In the long-term, however, China will look to diversify its import sources for food. At the risk of repeating ourselves, U.S. agricultural producers should be thinking in terms of sales to China in the future as a bonus, and not as a primary component of growth or revenue.
The EU-U.S. agreement is a welcome sign. All hail the lobster king. That the EU and the U.S. are fighting over trade at a time when the U.S. is attempting to reshape the global economy in a massive trade war with China has always been confusing. In any case, this is still pennies compared to the overall trade relationship. As for the corn tariffs – we have been worried for months now that the low global food prices that have resulted from reduced demand as a result of COVID-19 might be a mirage covering up a spike in food prices to come as a result of lack of incentive for farmers to plant/grow, various climate-related disasters around the world, and the continued supply chain disruption caused by COVID-19. So far, our fear has been unfounded but we’re highly sensitive to upward-moving prices, and this week we began to see hints of just that.
America seethes, part infinity. A video of a police officer shooting Jacob Blake in the back went viral and sparked protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A 17-year old has been arrested on charges of killing two people and injuring another during the protests.
What it means:
We laid out some of what we think the ongoing domestic unrest and racially-based violence in the U.S. means. You can read those thoughts by clicking here. If you’d rather we just cut to the chase, here is the key passage that applies: “The United States will never be the same country it was before 2020. Whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen. At this point, it is too early to know what kind of American nation will emerge from the elections, protests, riots, conflicts, and arguments taking place right now. At the global level, however, the situation is slightly more predictable. America’s loss of faith in itself at home will translate into the continued atrophy of American strength abroad.”
We agree with this analysis.
“The biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good because it provides you with enemies. Let me explain: the great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies and all the goodness in the whole world is in you.” We agree with this analysis too.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that his government would submit a bill that would extend Greece’s territorial waters in the Ionian Sea from six to 12 nautical miles, in accordance with the Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Russia and the United States had an altercation in Syria on Tuesday. No shots were reportedly fired, but a Russian military vehicle struck an American vehicle during an American patrol.
ASML, the Dutch-based company that has a global monopoly on extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) machines, announced it was opening a $16 million high-tech training facility in Taiwan to better serve its top customer – Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).
Australia’s government announced new legislation that would require states, territories, councils, and universities to coordinate all relationships with foreign governments with Australian foreign policy.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and said the two sides had discussed “relaunching a strategic partnership” during a “very fruitful meeting.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a wide-ranging interview with the Rossiya-1 TV channel, during which he said that he had formed “a backup law enforcement unit” on the request of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko but that the unit will not be used “unless the situation gets out of control.”
Iran announced it would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to two sites for inspection.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok said Sudan would not consider recognizing Israel until at least 2022 because it does not have a “mandate” to do so.
HKU Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine researchers announced that it had proven “the first instance of human re-infection by SARS-CoV-2.
Bloomberg reports that Trump administration officials are hinting that U.S. firms will be allowed to use WeChat in China.
The U.S. is suspending all further military cooperation with Mali.