29 Comments
Jan 26Liked by Robert Wu

Great piece today, Robert.

Quite thin-skinned of Noah to ban you for a hundred years instead of engaging w/ your reasonable comment. I look forward to all your future posts on what he gets wrong about China. Your description of his takes on China being 1) wrong & 2) representative of many American intellectuals is spot on. I have seen many “thinkers” of this type (& their followers) being dismissive of taking feedback/input from on-the -ground PRC-based Chinese folks who they may actually learn something useful from. I have a few guesses as to why . .

Incidentally, I’ve heard something similar to your Lingang data comment recently. I’ve been to Lingang a couple times over the past years and got a sense that the area was set to do something different than other “new areas.” Will be interesting to see what happens.

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It's an interesting place for sure, essentially the largest port area of the world. If China of 21 century is a continental-seafaring hybrid culture, then Lingang should have been the key seafaring node in that structure. I also like the idea that we can have more "enclaves" with special rules apart from Hong Kong and Macao.

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Jan 26Liked by Robert Wu

Agree, Lingang has that key seafaring node potential, Tesla Gigafactory as a showpiece for foreign enterprises, & the land reclamation work done to build Lingang is pretty incredible.

I wonder if - had the late Hu era pre-2012 vibes continued unabated - when the many SEZs were gaining power & resources, some of them may have eventually evolved into similarly styled “enclaves” w/ special rules, or if the corruption & lavish spending that seemed endemic to the SEZs would have prevented that level of development. Some of the talk I heard from SEZ leaders during that pre-Xi time seemed to be hinting at something like an enclave for 外国公司. We’ll see how these exceptions to PRC rules work in practice in Lingang, it sounds appealing in theory . .

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Feb 2Liked by Robert Wu

I wouldn't have banned you, which I agree is very petty, but I also would suggest re-assessing your comment and whether it accomplishes what you want it to. It's clear you've taken offense by Noah's analysis here, and that emotion is dominant in your tone. Instead of disagreement though, your comment comes off as an accusation -- that Noah is pushing false narratives with malicious intent. "I really ponder what you are trying to do here and what the assumptions you hold". I personally see ignorance more than malice. I think the emotion in your comment and the accusatory nature of it is likely what Noah objected to, and I think I do too, at least a little bit. For people who aren't familiar with your work, your comment doesn't read as an invitation to learn something new, which is a shame because I agree that his analysis on China is missing firsthand experience and a criticism of his work that incorporates that info would enrichen the whole debate! Looking forward to the takedown(s) -- would love to have your voice alongside his.

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Jan 26·edited Jan 26Liked by Robert Wu

What a glass heart that know-nothing has. Sorry this happened. That particular post, fwiw, was not that terrible, which makes the "100 year banning" all the more weird.

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As always from me: No, don't write about this haha. Noah is a product of a certain social media bubble and is irrelevant to those of us outside of it. I spent a decade in Hong Kong and still have to pay close attention to China for work. I do not read Noah and don't intend to. Hence, I do not want to read about Noah.

I always lose these votes though lol, and I guess the last time you did this the article was enlightening so I should trust that.

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Hahaha

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Something I've never understood whenever I read about frenzies in China's equity markets is why more Chinese don't embrace passive investing?

There also doesn't seem to be much institutional shareholders. Judging from Market Screener data, Tencent is the only Chinese institution that serves such a role. Where do Unis, Insurance corpos and the government SWFs put their money?

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I actually thought about this. This is the equivalent of asking Americans in the age of Morgans and Carnegies to embrace passive investing. We are just too early. Most people are still dreaming of outsized returns. But this is precisely the opportunities. The potential for investor education and passive investing is massive.

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Jan 26Liked by Robert Wu

Like Robert I've thought a bit about it too, but from an outsider's perspective after living in Mainland China, Hong Kong SAR, and Taiwan Prov. Passive investing only took off in Hong Kong after the establishment of forced investment into retirement funds for salaried workers, similar to corporate IRA's in America but where the enforcer in the USA is the corporations and the tax code.

Note only 10% of Americans own over 98% of USA stocks directly or indirectly via funds. Insider trading is illegal in the USA, so only the powerful can safely engage in it, which yet again takes away interest in self investing, while in China and Taiwan everyone uses gossip and fake or real insider trading tips to play. Lots of issues beyond the scope of a comment or my ability and time constraints to go into, but structurally the urge to game the system is stronger in the Chinese, in part because the economic system is still open. Once the top really locks down the wealth, then it will start to look like USA.

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Feb 2·edited Feb 2Liked by Robert Wu

Allow me to comment on Noah banning you. In Western norms, banning is not the same thing as censoring. When someone is censored they don't have the ability to communicate anywhere. Here you are allowed to communicate on your Substack, but just not allowed to communicate on Noah's Substack. His perspective is that he is responsible for the content of his comment section - he is not obligated to represent all views on his Substack, only those views that serve the reader.

Although I disagree with his decision, because I think your views do serve the reader. While your criticism of Noah was not very politely stated, the important thing you made a substantive criticism not an empty insult. Noah ought to be more open to dissenting views that would improve his critiques of contemporary CCP.

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It think that would be okay if I were not his paid subscriber… At least that’s not something I will do to mine.

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Feb 2·edited Feb 2Liked by Robert Wu

I agree that Noah is somewhat influential among policy thinkers on China. Even if he just one voice of many, many have similar ideas so a substantive critique of Noah would serve to criticize a mainstream - may I even say predominant - Western perspective on China.

I look forward to reading your critique on his view that Xi is squandering China's potential.

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N Smith may not have any actual policy influence but Western commentators who simply make prejudicial comments about China unfortunately help “manufacture consent” for a future conflict with China. Whereas no matter what prejudices Chinese people have about the US, there is no chance of China going to war with the US (Taiwan aside).

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Spot on. That’s my fear as well.

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Jan 26Liked by Robert Wu

I hadn't heard of Noah Smith so I went and checked out his posts about China. Frankly, on this issue, he is a gadfly, one among many gadflies multiplying and trying to capitalize on the New Serious Topic.

While I can imagine the discourse emanating from him and other "public intellectuals" pivoting to Asia may seem worth pushing back on due to their popularity with random Substack people and random Twitter "journalists," I do not think it is worth your time and energy to engage with his arguments, such as they are. It was a waste of time for me to read it: American Man learns about China for the first time, assumes his discovery is as new to everyone else as it is to him, and hastens to explain to everyone the heretofore uncovered secrets and maladies befalling the PRC.

He has no influence in policy circles or among the China watching community. It would be more interesting to see your commentary on the key thinkers who are shaping that policy debate in Washington.

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Thank you for your comment! I agree that Noah doesn't have much influence over policy-making circles directly. However, he is an influential public intellectual, and one of the most profitable substackers. This clout means power. In the meantime, the "China-watching community" does not exist in isolation, but are subject to whims and wishes of public opinions, who are often even more ill-informed. That's why I believe it's worthwhile to critique the ideas he represents, so that in the future people can point to something when engaging with similar people like him.

On a separate note, who do you think are the "key thinkers who are shaping policy debate right now"? I could definitely pay more attention there.

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Jan 26Liked by Robert Wu

Well, if you think it's worthwhile, more power to you!

On important current thinkers and arguments shaping and framing the policy conversation over the last year or three, I'd say an interesting few places to start would be:

& Rush Doshi's The Long Game - that hypothesis basically underpins the Biden administration's understanding of China and its strategy

- Danger Zone by Hal Brands and Michael Beckley. DC has been obsessed with "Peak China" and the implications posed by Brands and Beckley since the book came out, much to my frustration

- And Bonnie Glaser, Tom Christensen, and Jessica Chen Weiss's recent article in Foreign Affairs about deterrence and assurance regarding Taiwan

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Good suggestions, ML.

Brands, Beckley, & Mearsheimer’s ideas are all good candidates for critique. Pillsbury & Pottinger too, tho at least those two have actual China experience, despite their bad ideas.

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Re: Noah Smith's behavior:

It stems from the arrogance of privilege. Subconsciously at least, "I am anointed and may profess any subject even if it is outside my knowledge base and area of expertise."

It could have been worse: you might just have been ignored as many are. The silent put-down.

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Not sure why I'm feeling such sangfroid, but in 2022 I put some spare cash in a high growth equity portfolio (professionally managed, heavily weighted towards China and emerging tech but despite a close to 60% loss at the moment, I'm holding firm because some fundamentals are exactly that, fundamentals. It also helps that the amount was spare cash I was willing to lose anyway.

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You seem clearly like a grifting whiner trying to build your business off of Noah’s.

And now you’re pouting because he won’t let you. Grow up.

You can keep pushing out your CCP blather on your own, whether or not Noah’s wants to deal with you.

Best of luck.

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author

Thanks for the comment

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Did you cancel your subscription to him? Some undervalued ADRs to be bought instead haha

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Seperately, may I suggest to check out the news and editorial site. Naked Capitalism, particularly the materials by Yves Smith. if you find it interesting, then you might want to reach out to Ms. Smith and let her know about your blog post as they do cross posting and it may drive more eyes to your site.

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I believe in a much earlier comment I suggested you read Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent". It's an eye opener for many Chinese students who studied overseas and become a bit dazzled. It should be required reading before they go, it will vastly improve their ability to learn.

Noah Smith is just like Andrew Marr of BBC https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLcpcytUnWU. However at least Marr was self-deluded enough to think he wasn't an agent/useful idiot for the powers behind the deep state. My understanding is Smith is still on the NED payroll, the same crew who funded Hong Kong riots, so of course he'd embrace censorship just like he'd embrace the corrosive and corrupting influence of NED money.

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Smith pushes the public relations of the United States' top level governing system, which has large overlap with the Western segment (the largest portion) of the transnational corporations-international finance-international NGOs-planetary security services network that refers to itself as the Liberal World Order. Consequently, you'll see him pushing their prevalent narratives, such as "Ukraine!" among other major topics, and numerous subtle ones that you may not notice due to their subtlety.

However, Smith, like many, is deeply entrenched in specific factions within the United States' elite governing circles. This explains why, in his recent discussions about the shortcomings of the IFA, he not only minimized their impact—as many do, despite the facade of division and some actual discrepancies—but also sought to leverage these criticisms to advocate for increased resources for the faction he predominantly supports. This was achieved by erroneously attributing much of the fault to an insufficiency in bureaucratic capacity.

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