Sinocism Podcast #2: Joanna Chiu on her new book China Unbound

  
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Episode Notes:

Today's guest is Joanna Chiu, a long-time journalist covering China from both inside and outside the country, co-founder and chair of the editorial collective 'NüVoices 女性之音', and the author of the new book "China Unbound." She now covers Canada-China issues for the Toronto Star. Joanna, welcome to the podcast.

4:20 on Huawei, Meng Wanzhou and the two Michaels - when the whole Huawei, Meng Wanzhou saga was unfolding, I got so many questions from not just Canadian journalists, but media around the world about what was going on. I think it's surprising to us because we've been in the China-watching bubble, but more broadly, what happened was very shocking for a lot of people all over the world

23:20 people like me and my family aren't fully accepted as Canadians or as Australians or as Americans, it's always like a hyphen, like Chinese-Canadian, Chinese-American. That just plays into what Beijing wants. When people of Chinese descent are taken as political prisoners or get calls from Chinese police saying, "Stop supporting Hong Kong on social media or stop doing this," these people get less attention. They're not taken seriously when they try to report what's happening because unfortunately a lot of people in the West have accepted the CCP's myth that we're still essentially Chinese

36:20 on Canada-China relations - in Canada, the mood after the Michaels returned and the Meng case was resolved is that they really want to go back to business as usual. To not have any kind of plan in place on how to prevent Canadian hostages from being taken in the future. The Prime Ministers office really steering this even though other parts of government was like, "We need some sort of plan, we need some sort of update to foreign policy in general." There's very little political will.


Links: China Unbound on Amazon.

Joanna Chiu’s website

NüVoices 女性之音


Transcript:

Bill:
Hi everyone, today's guest is Joanna Chiu, a long-time journalist covering China from both inside and outside the country, co-founder and chair of the editorial collective 'NüVoices', and the author of the new book "China Unbound." She now covers Canada-China issues for the Toronto Star. Joanna, welcome to the podcast.

Joanna:
Thank you Bill, thanks for having me on your new podcast, very exciting.

Bill:
Thanks, yeah you are the second guest, and so I'm really happy to have this opportunity to speak with you. Before we dig into your book, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up where you are and doing what you do?

Joanna:
Okay. I guess my bio is that my family is one of the many who left Hong Kong after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests because my parents were worried about what would happen going forward. So growing up in Canada, I felt that China was actually part of my whole family story because what happened led to my family uprooting themselves. So I was always really interested in China and studied Chinese history and wanted to return to be a reporter to chronicle what was happening in the country, which I was so fascinated by.

Joanna:
So I started reporting on the ground in Hong Kong in 2012, covering all the things that happened there including the Occupy to pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. I moved to Beijing in 2014 and that's where I started covering basically everything in the whole country for European media outlets, including German, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and AFP (Agence France-Presse). And I guess my career was a bit unique in that I also free-lanced for several stints. So I got to kind of get a sense of what many different jurisdictions and countries wanted to know about China in my time there writing for all sorts of outlets.

Bill:
Interesting and so I was there until 2015 and I think we overlapped for just about a year. When did you actually leave China to go back to Canada?

Joanna:
Yeah, I left China in late 2018. I wanted to stay for longer because even seven years on the ground I felt I barely got to scratch the surface of all the things that I could write about in China. Especially because I had such a broad remit where I was a front-line reporter for all of these major events but also could do basically any feature story I wanted. So it was just totally open and I could have stayed there for decades, but I had to go back to Canada. I got asthma from the smog and I think my Canadian lungs just couldn't handle air. I was just like really allergic to Beijing as soon as I landed and I stuck it out for four years. But back in Canada, I felt I would have to move on from my passion and interest in China, but a couple of months after I returned, Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei executive was detained in the Vancouver International Airport. And just over a week later, two Michaels were detained. So definitely I think that was the biggest China story at the time, and it continued to be very impactful around the world.

Joanna:
So I started covering that and it just led to basically being a reporter for the Toronto Star, focusing on China. And that's what I've been doing since then. I have also been working on my book since early 2019. So not my plan, but definitely the past decade has been very China focused, including my last few years.

Bill:
It's great, I've always been a fan of your work, and I will say, it's very interesting how many foreign correspondents used to live in China have left the country. Some willingly, some not willingly, but how it turns out how most of them have found jobs covering how China's impacting the world wherever they're now based.

Joanna:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bill:
I think that's a good segue into talking about your book because it really is true that the China story is everywhere now. And that's something, I think, you try and capture in "China Unbound." So tell us who you wrote it for, why you wrote it, and what do you hope that the readers take away from it?

Joanna:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So when the whole Huawei, Meng Wanzhou saga was unfolding, I got so many questions from not just Canadian journalists, but media around the world about what was going on. I think it's surprising to us because we've been in the China-watching bubble, but more broadly, what happened was very shocking for a lot of people all over the world. They didn't know the context of Beijing's political system and its increasing ... how its authoritarianism translates also into its foreign policy and its stances towards different countries and diaspora groups all over the world. But these things were not just stories I covered, but stories that were close to my life. Because growing up, my father worked for a Chinese-Canadian radio station and people were talking already then about pressure to self-censor, pressure from the Chinese embassy on Canadian media outlets. This was happening in the 90s and people of Chinese descent around the world were trying to have discussions about this, but basically not really getting much traction or broader public attention.

Joanna:
It did seem ... I will ask you if this is what you felt, but it took two white men from Canada being taken hostage over this high-profile executive's arrest in Canada for a lot of people in the world to be like, "Wait, what's going on? How will Beijing's political system and authoritarianism possibly impact me and my family or my country or my business?" So I wrote this book for basically everyone, targeting the general reader because I really try to be as immediate as possible in my writing. Most of the reporting is eyewitness reporting from myself in collaboration with journalists around the world and looking at how we got to this point. Western countries and China, how we got to this point where it seems like a lot of obstacles that seem insurmountable. All of these tensions, all of these worries.

Joanna:
I wanted for people to start with this book and then I provided this long reading list at the end so they can continue to be engaging with these issues. Because I feel that we might not have really noticed, but a lot of the narratives around China in the mainstream public have been very very simplified. And that is a disservice to all countries. And especially to the people who end up being targets and whose lives end up being affected by some of these big conflicts going on.

Bill:
What you said earlier about it really taking two white men, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig to get people's attention. It's interesting because these pressures have existed, as you said talking about your father and his experience, but these pressures on the diaspora have existed for decades. They've certainly intensified, and you have multiple instances of ethnic Chinese who are jailed in China, American, Australian, where it didn't seem to kind of capture the national attention the way that the detention of the two Michaels did. And that's unfortunate, but it does feel like the conversation and awareness now has shifted and so there's a lot more awareness that these kind of pressures are existing across all sorts of communities. You can tell me I'm wrong, but the Chinese government has also shifted its approach, hasn't it? Sort of widened its net in terms of how they pressure?

Joanna:
Yeah, so in the past, you know the united front, a lot of that work of foreign influence in both intimidation and providing carrots and sticks. Flattering global politicians and global members of the elite among the diaspora have been going on, but the most harsh efforts of influence in the past I think were mostly directed at people of Asian descent. It was only in more recent years where the really harsh tactic, the detentions, have been applied to foreign nationals who are not of Asian descent. It seems like that is a deliberate shift in tactics, would you agree?

Bill:
No, I would. And I think it's interesting when you look at sort of who they've targeted, especially around the Meng Wanzhou case. Two Canadians were very quickly arrested, a third Canadian who had been convicted of dealing drugs had a re-sentence to death. There's still no word about Schellenberg's fate in the wake of the Meng Wanzhou deal. But I think that one thing that's interesting is they've yet to target Caucasian Americans. And so far, certainly what I was fearing in the Meng Wanzhou incident was that ... someone had told me that they had put together lists who they might target but they held back because part of the messaging is they're at least today not quite ready to go toe-to-toe with the U.S.. But willing to penalize countries and the citizens of the countries that are seen as effectively being U.S. allies or lackeys depending on who you're speaking with. Does that make sense?

Joanna:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that makes sense. And my book, people have said that because I'm Canadian and I spotlight countries and experiences like Australia, Italy, Greece, Turkey. So so-called middle powers, that middle-power perspective, whereas many books out of the U.S. and China have it from the U.S. perspective.

Bill:
Right, right.

Joanna:
And I think that's important context for Americans to understand because in America, it seems like a lot of it is about this almost glorious competition with China where the U.S. has to win. I have been kind of mortified that people commenting on my book have said things like, "We need to read this so that we can win and not let China win." Things like that. But if they had actually read it, they would have probably seen that that's not right. I criticize the Western nations' handling and attitudes towards China as much as I criticize Beijing's actions. So I would also point out that Australian journalists who are white were affecting. Bill Birtles and Michael Smith spent days holed up in their Australian embassies in China. Basically fleeing because they got tipped off that otherwise they might get detained. Related to Australia's more aggressive critical stance towards China as of late.

Bill:
And also-

Joanna:
It does seem-

Bill:
Sorry, was it also related to the detention of Australian Chinese ... Australian journalist Cheng Lei who was originally Chinese then naturalized into Australian citizenship. And she's disappeared into the system in China, right?

Joanna:
Yeah, so Cheng Lei ... Again, while she's not a global household name like the two Michaels, she is actually detained. Her case ... we know very little about it, but it seems very clear it's related to the political situation between the two countries. And also Bloomberg journal Haze Fan ... and I think actually Haze's case might be as close as China has gotten so far to targeting Americans because even though a Chinese national, she worked for Bloomberg. She was a prominent journalist for Bloomberg. So it's interesting because writing this book, I'm trying to provide this nuance and context for the public but under so much pressure because of global contexts. Things are so tense that it could get worse at any moment and you don't know. You're hearing from your sources about a list that they were preparing of Americans they could possibly target. The stakes are so high.

Joanna:
Both of us, these are people we know. I don't know if you knew Kovrig, but it's a relief that he's back.

Bill:
Not well, but I did know a little bit.

Joanna:
For the more than 1,000 days he was in detention, I was writing this book and that was always on my mind. It's so immediate and it's so urgent for more people to understand what's going on rather than I think fanning the flames or making things worse or not using the opportunities there are to engage more productively with China. But we see the dialogue on China becoming so toxic right now, where it's almost as if there's two camps. The more extreme on both sides seem to get more airtime and interest. And people want those nuggets of talking points on China that really signify this is how we fight back. Rather than the people who are trying to provide a lot more context. It's not as easy as doing this or that to resolve everything or get what you want.

Bill:
Well with what you said earlier about sort of "we have to win," I have yet to see a clear definition of the theory of victory and what it is. The other thing I'd say, and this will lead into my next question is, we talk about in many ways how toxic the discourse has gotten in the West. It's also incredibly toxic inside China in very worrisome ways. And in many ways, sort of state-supported and state-encouraged ways. One of the questions I want to ask you is how we ... So first question is as you talk about in the book and you've talked about in other places, this whole discussion around Chinese Communist Party influence or interference in other countries ... Whether it's through the United Front or other means or vectors ... How do we differentiate what we should actually, "we" being the countries that are targeted ... How should you differentiate what actually matters that people should be concerned with versus that's the normal thing that a foreign government would do to try and improve other countries' perceptions of that country and advance their interests in those countries.

Bill:
And related, as this discourse does get more toxic, how do we talk about these things without tipping into racism? In the U.S. certainly, we have a really long and nasty history of anti-Asian and specifically anti-Chinese racism. And there are a lot of reasons to be very worried about going too far where we're back in a very dark place in terms of how people of Asian and Chinese descent are treated in this country. But at the same time, there are real issues and potential threats coming from some of these PRC activities. So how do we talk about that in a way that effectively deals with the problems but also makes sure that people are safe and able to enjoy the rights that they deserve and have?

Joanna:
Yeah and that's why I try to provide a lot of that history concisely within each chapter of the book because we need to know what happened before to know to be a lot more careful with our language and our actions now. Because definitely it just seems like history is repeating itself during the McCarthy era. Chinese-Americans' loyalties are constantly questioned, they lost their jobs. And now former President Trump has said that he thinks basically all students are possibly Chinese spies. We've seen these prosecutions of certain Chinese national scientist professors in America that were basically pretty embarrassing.

Bill:
Yes.

Joanna:
It seemed a lot of the suspicions were unfounded and it was almost like a witch-hunt which is really difficult. When things seemed politicized and politically motivated and you put a blanket suspicion on all these people, it's exactly what happened in the past.

Bill:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Joanna:
And it's not just America. It was in Canada, Australia, Europe. In Canada, we had internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. And people know that this is in the background. And even before things got more tense when a lot of the approach among Western countries towards China was that the goal was to expand trade ties and economic ties as much as possible, there was still a lot of racism. Walking down the street, I got called slurs like the c-word in downtown Vancouver multiple times.

Bill:
Recently?

Joanna:
Throughout my life living in Canada. In Vancouver, particularly, there was a long-standing stereotype of the crazy rich Asian that was ruining the city with our Maseratis and condo buying.

Bill:
Wasn't there a reality show that was based on rich Chinese in Vancouver, I think?

Joanna:
Yeah, there was that and there's a lot of scapegoating against East Asians for lots of problems with COVID-19 and all this with the two Michaels in Huawei. This just really spiked particularly in countries like Canada, U.S., Australia with the large Chinese diaspora in many places. People who weren't even Chinese, like an indigenous woman in Canada, she was punched in the face. Things like that. And its not like we can throw up our hands and be like, "People are just going to be racist, this is just going to happen." I think a lot of people in positions of influence and politicians need to take responsibility for what they've done to stoke this behavior and not condone it. So talking to certain politicians in Canada in the conservative party, they tell me that there's been a shift in strategy to talk about China as the Chinese Communist Party, the communist regime, to deliberately stir up a red scare. In the U.S. definitely, the FBI in an announcement about one of its investigations into a Chinese American scientist said the words "Chinese Communist regime" or "Chinese Communist government" five times.

Bill:
That was the announcement about the MIT professor, was it Chen Gang, I think?

Joanna:
Yeah, I think so.

Bill:
The prosecutor or the FBI folks up in Boston, I believe.

Joanna:
Right. Yeah, that was the one. And it's just not necessary. You don't need to ... My argument is that the facts about what Beijing is doing are urgent and sobering enough. You don't really need to embellish it with this language of trying to get people scared of this Communist entity. But perhaps it's more to do with domestic politics in each place. Someone explained it to me in the U.S. where pretty much everyone is critical of China. You don't get more attention by just being moderately critical, you have to be really more extreme. It's as if it's like a competition to be as hawkish as possible to get that acclaim and public support.

Bill:
And as you said, it's unnecessary because as you just said, the facts can speak for themselves in many areas. And it again, it goes back to how do we have rational discussion about what the problems and challenges are without tipping over into something that's really nasty and scary. It's something I struggle with, obviously in my newsletter, I have ... It's funny when you write about China, I have people who think I'm a CCP apologist and people who think I'm way too hawkish. You sort of can't win, it's such a fraught topic that it is something I struggle with. Because you certainly don't want to be in a position where you're stirring things up, but at the same time you can't just throw up your hands and say, "Well we're not going to deal with this because it's too dangerous." I mean, it's too dangerous the other way too, right? But it's really difficult, and the question I have is, do you think the powers in Beijing understand this? Is this something they try to use or leverage?

Joanna:
Oh yeah, I think so. I think it plays right into what Beijing wants. Because the myth it has been promoting for years is that China is the center of Chinese civilization even if your family has been away from China for generations, you're still Chinese. And since you're still Chinese, your de-facto leader is still the CCP. It's a legitimate power for all Chinese people. Because people like me and my family aren't fully accepted as Canadians or as Australians or as Americans, it's always like a hyphen, like Chinese-Canadian, Chinese-American. That just plays into what Beijing wants. When people of Chinese descent are taken as political prisoners or get calls from Chinese police saying, "Stop supporting Hong Kong on social media or stop doing this," these people get less attention. They're not taken seriously when they try to report what's happening because unfortunately a lot of people in the West have accepted the CCP's myth that we're still essentially Chinese. It's in the law, if there's dual-nationality, they don't accept the second nationality.

Joanna:
But even more than that, I still worry that ... it's happened to people like me. I actually gave up my Hong Kong citizenship, I'm only Canadian. But just because of my Chinese blood, I'm at greater risk of whatever repercussions. I've definitely been singled out when I was a foreign correspondent in Beijing for writing too much about human rights. And they did not say the same things about other people in my office. So by not listening to people in the diaspora and still treating them as they're still outsiders, we're with this connection to China whether we agree or not, that's really playing into it. And also when there's this racism, Chinese media, Chinese embassies, they've been really up front about condemning this and using it as a way to shore up loyalty among overseas Chinese, especially people who are more recent immigrants to get that support. There's so many of these China Friendship associations around the world. It's tough to understand their impact because it's all basically legal. They are these groups that openly support Beijing's policies all around the world. And they have, in my reporting, taken part in basically trying to make friends with politicians around the world and using those interviews, events, photographs to turn into propaganda to say, "We got support from this politician." There were groups that have offered money for people to vote for certain candidates in other countries' elections.

Joanna:
So it's complicated because when these groups are alienated, when they still feel that ... On a pragmatic level, it makes better sense for them to have good relations with Beijing. These groups are going to increase and proliferate and it's hard to understand what they're doing because you don't want to villainize it. In a way it's very natural for people, say, with business ties in China to try to hob-nob with Chinese embassies and try to support them. When I do report on some of these activities like the potential vote buying and interfering in elections, people use it as an excuse to say, "Oh, everyone's like that. All recent immigrants are working for the CCP." And that just puts a lot of reporters and researchers in these really tricky situations where you want to report on what's going on, but because discourse just fails to be nuanced enough, people just kind of take it as a reason to be more hostile and to not really open up their minds that there's a diversity of opinions among Chinese people and the Chinese diaspora.

Bill:
And it's also hard I think because so much of it happens in Mandarin or other Chinese dialects, so most people who don't speak the language have no idea what's going on.

Joanna:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). But it's been such a rich field of potential reporting for me, going back to Canada. It's really, really resitting. I have been able to read all of these reports. I've been able to translate these posts into English for audiences who found it really interesting. But I would argue that it's not actually that hard because there are so many Chinese speakers all over the world. It's not like it's a niche population, like a small population. In these stories where Steve Bannon and Miles Kwok's like cultish group was protesting outside a Canadian journalist's house accusing him of being a Chinese spy, when he was actually critical of Beijing. There were death threats.

Bill:
They did that to a bunch of people in America too. They had a whole program of targeting people.

Joanna:
Yeah, New Jersey.

Bill:
Yeah.

Joanna:
Yeah, so in that case. In Texas, with Pastor Bob Fu, he was one of the targets. And the FBI came in, the bomb squad, they put him and his family in a safe house. But in Canada, police monitored it, checked in once in a while. I actually sent them videos, like this looks like a death threat. And I actually ... Me and my colleagues, we translated some of this information and we posted it on YouTube to explain what was going on. But then it took three months later, this going on in Canada ... Two of these protestors just savagely beat one of the target's friends. And the police were responding to questions of why didn't you step in earlier, there were death threats? They admitted that they were slow with the investigation because they didn't have Chinese language resources. And that doesn't make sense really, in Vancouver, when there are so many people of Chinese descent. It's not hard to find someone to look at something and translate it to understand it.

Joanna:
In the conclusion of my book, one of the points I make is that information in Chinese language is treated like a secret code that can't be cracked. Instead, people like Newt Gingrich and other kind of just make things up. In his book, Newt Gingrich ... I don't quite remember but he just provided nonsensical translations of Chinese words and then extrapolated a whole bunch of theories about China based on that. Which is insulting to all of the people, not just of Chinese descent, but people like you who have taken the time to learn Mandarin and to understand China.

Bill:
There's a lot of that here in the U.S., I don't know how much it exists in other countries. But certainly the taking stuff out of context or just crappy language skills. And then, like you said, extrapolating something much bigger and darker and nefarious than in many cases it actually is, for sure.

Joanna:
Yeah. In the U.S. people tell me that they do have Chinese speakers, but lower down in the chain who provide reports and information. But going up the chain, the politicians and the pundits, they pick and choose information to support what they believe already. So these researchers feel like they're not even being heard because politicians are just grabbing what they want anyways. In many cases, people of Chinese descent are worried about even going to China or talking about their family in China because they're not going to get promoted to more influential positions. They're not going to get security clearance because the assumption is that if you have any sort of China ties that you might be compromised. And that's a very prejudicious trend in D.C.

Bill:
When I moved back to D.C. after ten years, I had no interest in working for the government, but I had a funny conversation with someone who does have security clearance. He says, "Don't even bother to apply, you'll never get a security clearance because you lived in China for too long."

Joanna:
That's crazy.

Bill:
That's fine, but there are reasons for governments to be concerned with ties to other foreign governments, but certainly for folks of Chinese descent it's much more pernicious. And it does seem like in many places the assumption is that you're potentially at risk of compromise. One of the problems is how people's families are being leveraged back in China. You see it in the way the persecutions of the Uyghurs and Tibetans. But you see it also in Han Chinese, people who are doing things that are considered controversial or anti-China outside of China. It's a very common tactic, right, to harass, hassle, otherwise make difficult for family members back in China, right?

Joanna:
Yeah, and that is a major ... There's no solution to that. I tried to spotlight a lot of these voices in the book. I spoke with people like Vicky Xu, the campaign against her has just been ridiculous. People made fake porn of her, thousands of accounts were basically attacking her, doxxing her.

Bill:
I feel like that story didn't get as much attention as maybe it should have. She was just so brutally targeted by very obviously state-backed campaigns.

Joanna:
Yeah. Very personal and they started with her family. She's been open about that, how her family and parents have been pressured. But she didn't stop her work, so they went further. They sent thousands of accounts and they made fake pornography about her so that when people search in Chinese, that's what comes up. And trying to completely smear her character. But that story did not get that much attention.

Bill:
This is because of her work at the ASPI down in Australia, right? Specifically around Xinjiang

Joanna:
Xinjiang, yeah. I think she's one of the main researchers in Australia that focused on Xinjiang. The bigger issues looking at supply chains, looking at forced labor, and where internment camps are. Recently she found a trove of police documents about the repression. And because of her fluent Chinese and her networks, she was able to find this and provide this information. So people like her, I think, Beijing wants the most to silence and has the means and leverage to try to do so. I think she's unique in that she continues to do this work. We're not sure for how long because you have to wonder how long someone can take this.

Bill:
Right.

Joanna:
More people that I know of are either operating anonymously, they're really providing subtle advising roles to governments in a very very anonymous manner. Because they're worried about their families. Or they're writing under pseudonyms and they don't get a lot of attention because no one knows who they are. They're worried about ... not even access. I think a lot of researchers worry about being able to go back to China. At different levels, people who are worried about the safety of themselves and their family members.

Bill:
So just given the trajectory of China under Xi Jinping, is there any reason to think this is going to get better? Or are we sort of more close to the beginning of where this trajectory goes?

Joanna:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) I think we're kind of at a pivotal point. A lot of it isn't waiting for what Beijing does, but there's a responsibly on Western countries to at least be smarter about China and to have proper expertise in places of governments to try to even have some well thought out policy on these issues. In the U.S. Cabinet, very little China experience. And like we talked about, the people with experience ... They have trouble having influence. And in Canada, the mood after the Michaels returned and the Meng case was resolved is that they really want to go back to business as usual. To not have any kind of plan in place on how to prevent Canadian hostages from being taken in the future. The Prime Ministers office really steering this even though other parts of government was like, "We need some sort of plan, we need some sort of update to foreign policy in general." There's very little political will. I think the amount of criticism in different countries' media doesn't reflect the lack of political will of governments to even put the basic structures in place to understand China better. To be able to translate basic things from Chinese into English to be aware of.

Bill:
And in Canada, why do you thing that is? Especially given the diversity of Canada and the number of people of Chinese descent in the country. But also what just happened over the last close to three years. Why wouldn't the government have had a bit more of a shift in views of how the relationship in China should go?

Joanna:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) I think it's related partly to what we were talking about before where politicians are worried about stoking racism, losing support from Canadians of Chinese descent. Partly an election issue, and I think traditionally in Canada, the main government advisors on China have been people in the business world who do have a vested interest in making sure that tensions are as low as possible to facilitate smoother business interactions. But that's also not even the case where if you ... I think the idea in the West has been reformed through trade. Through interactions, economically, China will naturally liberalize, become more democratic. But in recent years, we've seen political tensions move over to economic coercion, economic retaliation. Not just from China but back and forth, with America, Australia, other countries have also did tit-for-tat trade tariffs. Different ways where the political situation can impact the economic relationships. So it's not even necessarily the case that just by focusing on business, everything will be all good. I think a lot of politicians are trying to put their head in the sands about that and not trying to understand the really complex situation unfolding. And Canadians on the whole, surveys show, pretty frustrated about the situation in action and just passiveness that they see from Ottawa.

Bill:
I guess the Huawei decision will be interesting, whether or not Huawei is allowed into the Canadian 5G network construction. Certainly here in D.C., there's all the factors you talked about and there's a lot of opportunity for lobbyists from various industries and companies to sort of shift Biden administration and Capitol thinking to policies that are more likely to make money dealing with China. And that certainly has an impact on the policies. So just shifting gears quickly because we're almost out of time and this has been a really great conversation. One of the things we were talking about was lifting up and getting more diversity of voices. Can you tell the listeners about NüVoices and what you helped create there? I found that to be a really wonderful and useful project that's been up for a couple years now? Or has it been three years? Time just sort of blended away with the pandemic, right?

Joanna:
So actually we were founded in 2017.

Bill:
Oh my gosh, okay.

Joanna:
In Beijing, so it's almost under five years. It's been like a daily kind of passion project in the community for me. We kind of wanted to create a more open and accepting China space, both in person with events and chapters around the world and also virtually. And it started in reaction with panels and book deals. The people who get platformed on China are often white male experts. No offense to yourself.

Bill:
People like me. No, no, I get it. I get it.

Joanna:
You're one of our longtime supporters and our patrons and we've spoken about how this helps to create a better world for your kids, for your daughters. Because we want to remove any excuses that people have for not even having one woman on their panel. Five years ago, people just kept saying to us and our co-founders, "We tried to find a female expert, but we couldn't find one." Or "We couldn't find a woman on this topic." Which is ridiculous because looking around, actually people we know, I see more women than men entering these fields. Definitely being a journalist in China, there's more women than men. And women who can speak Chinese and doing great work. So we created this open-source directory. Now it has more than 600 people all around the world who are women or non-binary on all sorts of topics. And speaking all sorts of languages in all sorts of time zones. I think just that project alone helped to remove those excuses. Any time someone makes an excuse that they couldn't find a woman, someone just has to send that person the link to this directory. No more excuses.

Joanna:
And on top of that we have a twice monthly podcast which I co-host sometimes and events all around the world. And basically social groups and networks and it's a platform so that people can benefit from this supportive atmosphere. We really try and celebrate diverse voices on China, experts on China. I find that women tend to ... because they're facing so much discrimination, women experts often have to fight harder to provide unique insights and reporting. So the kind of good quality you get just reaching out to any female expert in China, its a pretty good bet on fresh and interesting perspectives. And definitely I found that the case with my book. Because you know I tried to practice what I preach and most of my sources are coming from diverse backgrounds, women and minorities ... I shouldn't even use the word "minorities", people who aren't white basically.

Bill:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) right.

Joanna:
In each country, and I think that provides a different layer than people who enjoy positions of more power in those countries, who might not see some of the more uglier sides or the more complicated sides because that's not their experience. They're not getting the five star treatment when they go to China that a lot people in power do.

Bill:
It's definitely one of the things I enjoy about your book, it does have these different perspectives that are so important as we are all sort of trying to figure out what's going on and start thinking about what we can do. Specifically, NüVoices, I was looking at the directory last week. I think it's like 620 entries or something, I'm certainly planning to mine it for guests for the podcast because it's a really tremendous resource. And I will put a link to it in the show notes when we publish the podcast. Well thank you so much, is there anything else you'd like to add or say to the audience? Other than buy your book, "China Unbound", it's a great book. Please go ahead and go buy it and read it. It's a great book.

Joanna:
Just asking yourself, being based in the U.S., what are the best avenues for a more productive conversations on China? Instead of going to people who are more simplistic, what are some more resources you'd recommend? Including, of course your newsletter and that community. But who's doing the work to make up more well-informed approaches?

Bill:
That's a great question, and I'm not actually sure I have a good answer. I'm struggling with that and part of it is maybe that I'm based in D.C. where it is quite ... It's difficult to be in D.C. and to be not hawkish about China if you want to get ahead in certain parts of the government here. And so, I'm not actually sure. I know that there's China Twitter ... I mean Twitter in general is just kind of a cesspool and China Twitter is not a productive or constructive place for discourse about anything. I don't know, I wish I had a better answer for you, I need to think about it more.

Joanna:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Bill:
Do you have any guesses or any suggestions?

Joanna:
I was expecting a more simplified reaction to my book, but actually all the events I've been doing so far are conversations with academics and fellow reporters have been really nuanced. And it seems like there's a hunger for people who want to admit there are no simple solutions and to talk about that. But it doesn't' seem like here's a particular space or a think tank that has that approach. It seems-

Bill:
The think tanks probably are the place. I mean there are other ... The folks at SupChina are trying to do that. I don't know if you've talked to them. Kaiser's got his podcast and they do their conference. I think their conference ... We're recording on the 1st of November so they're I think next week. But in general, I don't know, it's also ... Like anything, it's hard to have a more textured or kind of deeper discussion in these 30 minute chunks or when you're sitting on a panel. It's just putting in the time and having ... Like you're doing, talking to me and you're talking to lots of people for your book. And this is a topic that has probably come up in most of your conversations and it's just something we're going to have to keep talking about. I know over the next few months there are at least two more books that are coming out about China's influence in the world. And so it'll be interesting to see where those goes in terms of how they impact or move the discourse and how those get played. And again, I think it's like I said, me struggling with how do you address these issues that are very real and influence interference without going overboard and over-exaggerating and destroying innocent people's lives. Which I think has already happened and continues to be a big risk.

Joanna:
I do think simple answers that people need to pay better attention and not just to get a shallow understanding, but to really understand the nitty-gritty and try to untangle complexities. And support the people who are trying to do this work. A lot of their names are in my book. If you don't want to buy it, flip to the back of the notes and you'll get their names and look up those articles. People like Yangyang Cheng, Helen Gao. People who are straddling both worlds, Chinese and Western. Because of those real lived experiences, their perspectives are just naturally very nuanced and insightful, I think. So people are doing this work, its just they're not the ones on CNN and getting book deals because of structures power. So support NüVoices.

Bill:
Absolutely. Like you said, I'm a supporter of NüVoices, I'm very happy to put a link to that as well. Support you through Patreon, right? We should move you over to Substack, but that's a different discussion. That's my bias. Well look, thank you so much. It's really been a pleasure to speak with you and I hope that many of you listeners will go out and buy the book. It's really a worthwhile read and Joanna really has great reporting, great perspectives. And this book is really important contribution to the conversation we all need to be having about China and the future and China's role in the world. So thank you and hope to talk to you again soon.

Joanna:
Thank you so much for all of your work, really platforming those more quality, well-informed sources on China. You've run the newsletter for a long time, so I think that makes a big difference as well because you use your expertise to point people to credible, good sources. So I'll also subscribe to your newsletter.

Bill:
Thank you.