When things become chaotic, the need for original sources on the ground becomes even more important. Without direct accounts of what’s happening everything comes down to some kind of spin applied at a distance. Writers don’t always deliberately set out to misinform, but a world changing constantly is a world where information at a distance is probably outdated at best.
The problem with original sources is that they can be very hard to understand. Leaving aside other languages and pretending that google translate can handle that adequately, everyone has a different perspective. Every culture has its idioms and biases. Some things simply do not translate well.
Here is just one example of a “nearly original” source and how to read it.
One story that is circulating is that the US is somehow winning the Trade War even as it starts. There are several variations on this theme ranging from “China is on its knees” to “China is back at the table,” all of which imply that this is a solid strategy. Refuting this obvious propaganda is difficult because what proof can anyone possibly offer?
You have to go close to the Chinese government to have anything like a real story. Doing so probably will involve the Chinese language, which google translate handles horribly – in fact, the process of using google translate back and forth to Chinese may be worth a textbook in that it is both useful and difficult.
So what do we have from China? Away from this particular issue, where do you get good Chinese news?
The short answer is that you have to read China Daily, which is a government owned English language news feed. Every article is as truthful as it can be while still holding to the Communist Party line. This is very useful in a nation where government officials do not hold press conferences.
Every piece in this paper has to be read carefully. If you think of it as the government position first and foremost it can be very enlightening. This includes an article by Daniël de Blocq van Scheltinga, described as founding partner of Polarwide Ltd., a financial and strategic advisory firm, and chairman of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong between 2014. He’s not Chinese, but he’s been there a while. He writes like a Westerner, but he knows what he’s talking about. And it appeared in the government owned press.
This is pretty much the best you can hope for in terms of “original source” in English.
The problem with the article, “A trade war based on US ignorance,” is inherent in its title. There is a lot of opinion here and it often crosses into propaganda. But so what? It’s very obvious where this is coming from and frankly that’s part if its value. If you want original sources, and you should, you have to be able to get over things like this. That’s lesson number one.
The author states his position clearly in the second paragraph. “This trade war is not just about trade, which would be easy to fix, but about the geopolitical and economic rise of China.” You can’t ask for better. This is the color that all the text will have, and it’s a deep Chinese red. It can be hard to understand this without appreciating the victim status of that color, but even without it we can see what is happening.
The long and short of it is that China sees this trade war as nothing other than a war by other means. If you are familiar with the nonsense of the Thucydides Trap, which I never got around to writing about, you would understand why China saw this coming. This isn’t about fairness, it’s about keeping China down.
With that in mind, why would they negotiate or surrender at this stage? It should be obvious. They won’t.
This article is a very good one in that it goes into depth describing the two characteristics of China that Westerners never seem to understand, outside of the constant fear of more victimization. These can both be understood intellectually and need to be present in every discussion about China.
One is that the government is always out for the long haul. They see government as a “ship of state,” and as such referred to Mao as “The Great Helmsman.” It doesn’t change direction quickly, nor should it. They are always working to a long term plan, and clearly presume that every other nation is as well.
The second is that China has its own problems to deal with. This variation on “All politics is local” should be taken as a given anywhere in the world, but it’s especially true in China. The upheaval has been tremendous as about 30% of the population migrated from rural to urban areas in the last generation. Given the pressure that the authoritarian government feels to keep this under control and it should be obvious that they simply have other things to deal with no matter what tantrum the United States is throwing.
Is this article a good example of an original source? It’s not actually from the government, but it was casually endorsed by it. It’s not written in a Chinese way, but that can be a good thing. It gives a lot of perspective, colored as it is, and invites the reader to see things from Chinese eyes.
It’s not exactly an original source, and it should not be taken verbatim. But it’s far better than anything that will be written on the topic in the US. It clearly answers the question about the trade war and how it might be going, which is to say that the trenches are still being dug for a long, nasty war. “Victory” is an concept just slightly stupider than that trade war itself at this stage.
In this world we need sources like this more than ever. It’s far from perfect, but it helps a lot. Without this there is nothing to refute con men and idiots, and they desperately need refutation.