More Questions About China

As Alex Kliment wrote in your Tuesday edition of Signal, Xi Jinping has moved to eliminate the two-term constitutional limit on China’s president, allowing him to remain formally in charge beyond the end of his current term in March 2023. I’m opening your Friday edition on the same subject, because this is a very, very big deal.


Multiply China’s growing international power by Xi Jinping’s domestic political control, and Xi is already the most powerful man on Earth. This week, he began the process of removing the most important remaining check on his authority.

Questions to consider:

  • Should the rest of the world be happy about the predictability that comes with continuity at the top of the Chinese government? Maybe. Given China’s growing importance for the global economy, and China’s need for big changes in its economic and financial systems, shouldn’t we be glad that a self-professed reformer has minimized the risk that lame-duck status will undermine his ability to get things done? It’s not like China would otherwise become a democracy.
  • This story matters for all of us. In 1990, China accounted for just 1.6 percent of global GDP. By 2016, it had surged to 14.7 percent, second only to the US. In 1996, China invested just $2 billion beyond its borders. By 2016, that number had climbed to $217 billion. Given the worldwide economic implications of China’s rise, don’t we all need China to succeed?
  • Or maybe has Xi created a new sense of urgency within the party among those who fear his power and oppose his reform plans? Has he forced rivals to try to more actively sabotage his agenda or even to move against him?
  • At what point does Xi start thinking more about protecting his power than about building China’s future?
  • What happens if Xi fully consolidates power, but reforms fail, the economy sinks, and China has no clear alternative to his leadership? What sort of power struggle might that unleash?

We know there’s heightened caution in Beijing this week, because online government censors are suddenly very busy. You won’t have much luck if you try using any of these phrases on Sina Weibo (China’s version of Twitter) this week:

  • “Long Live the Emperor” (Pretty obvious)
  • “Constitutional rules” (None of your business)
  • “Animal Farm” (George Orwell says hi)
  • “Winnie the Pooh” (Don’t mock the president)
  • “I disagree” (Don’t think of debate)
  • “Emigration” (Don’t think of leaving)

Technology is changing the way modern geologists locate precious resources and harness energy. With supercomputers capable of processing geophysical data from all over the world, geologists are reconstructing models of the subsoil to identify hydrocarbon deposits. The efficiency of these powerful data processors can scan massive rock formations to help laboratories analyze geological systems. While today's modern geologists still have a compass and hammer to collect samples, petaflops of computing power are changing energy research at lightning speed.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Are e-Cigs an example of tech gone wrong?


There's a real tradeoff in e-cigarettes. To the extent that people stop smoking regular cigarettes to use e-cigarettes, that's good. To the extent that new people who wouldn't have been smokers, particularly young people, start smoking, that's bad. Now there are real societal problems and health problems and the data show that there are lots of new people starting to smoke. I don't think of it as much as a tech problem though or tech gone wrong as much as a social problem.


Moviepass has shut down. Final thoughts?


Moviepass was this insane business. You pay them ten dollars a month and then they let you see all the 2D movies you want. That was one business plan. They had about 20 business plans. It's kind of just, there lots of tech companies where the business model is: pay us a dollar and we'll pay you two dollars. And then they say to the venture capitalists: "Look we're growing. Give us more money." Of course that's going to run out.


Nostalgia. What's the next old tech about to make a resurgence?


Snapchat. A year ago, it looked like they were poached. That Instagram was just going to knock them out. And now, everybody's using Snapchat again.

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