How would Britain’s Labour party change UK-China relations?

34 min listen

In less than a month’s time, Britain may well have a new prime minister – and a different ruling party. Under 14 years of the Conservative party, the UK’s approach to China has swung from the sycophancy of the golden era to fear and loathing under Liz Truss, stabilising in the last couple of years to a compete but engage approach, all while public opinion on China has hardened following the Hong Kong protests and the pandemic. What will a new government bring? Will the managerialism of Keir Starmer change UK-China relations much from the managerialism of Rishi Sunak? This is not a hypothetical question as Labour looks set to

Wannabes: are any of them ready?

36 min listen

On this week’s Edition: Wannabes – are any of them ready? Our cover piece takes a look at the state of the parties a week into the UK general election campaign. The election announcement took everyone by surprise, including Tory MPs, so what’s been the fallout since? To provide the latest analysis, The Spectator’s political editor Katy Balls joins the podcast (2:00). Then: Angus Colwell reports on how the election is playing out on social media, and the increasing role of the political ‘spinfluencer’. These accounts have millions of likes, but how influential could they be during the election? Alongside Angus, Harry Boeken, aka @thechampagne_socialist on TikTok, joins us to share their

China’s role in Soviet policy-making

Why should we want to read yet another thumping great book about the collapse of the Soviet empire? Sergey Radchenko attempts an answer in his well-constructed new work. Based on recently opened Soviet archives and on extensive work in the Chinese archives, it places particular weight on China’s role in Soviet policy-making. The details are colourful. It is fun to know that Mao Tse-Tung sent Stalin a present of spices, and that the mouse on which the Russians tested it promptly died. But the new material forces no major revision of previous interpretations. Perhaps the book is best seen as a meditation on the limitations of political power. Stalin and

The moon matters to China

China’s Chang’e-6 moon mission was launched on 3 May. It reached lunar orbit a few days later and began waiting for sunrise over its landing site on the moon’s far side. Chang’e-6 is named after the Chinese goddess of the moon and it will land on Sunday in a crater called Apollo – an ancient double-ringed walled plain caused by an asteroid smashing into the young moon. Apollo has been heavily damaged by subsequent impacts and in many places covered with lava flows and sprinkled with particles from newer impacts. It is as Buzz Aldrin said, a magnificent desolation. It is a region of great geological significance, since it contains

Life in a changing China

39 min listen

Since 1978, China has changed beyond recognition thanks to its economic boom. 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty as GDP per capita has grown eighty times. Some 60 per cent of the country now live in cities and towns, compared to just 18 per cent before. But you know all this. What’s less talked about is what that does to the people and families who live through these changes. What is it like to have such a different life to your parents before you, and your grandparents before then? How have people made the most of the boom, and what about those who’ve been left behind? A

There’s trouble ahead for Taiwan’s new president

Not many inaugural ceremonies bring together dragons, dancers, rappers, and a 10-metre-high blue horse breathing steam out of its nostrils. But last Monday morning, as thousands gathered to watch the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president William Lai, Taipei’s residents were treated to just that. And as Lai danced on the stage, he may well have been very happy. His inauguration ceremony, an eclectic display of Taiwanese culture, had gone off without a hitch.  Moreover, his inaugural speech, designed to outline a pragmatic foreign policy while developing new ideas to stimulate Taiwan’s economy, had elicited what felt like a relatively muted reaction from Beijing. Like his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, Lai committed

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan remains unlikely

For a second day, yesterday, Chinese fighter jets and warships surrounded Taiwan for drills which the People’s Liberation Army said were designed to ‘test the ability to jointly seize power, launch joint attacks and occupy key areas’. They followed the inauguration earlier this week of Taiwan’s new and democratically elected president Lai Ching-te, who Beijing has characterised as a ‘dangerous separatist’. The exercises were a ‘strong punishment’, said the PLA, presumably for Taiwan’s audacity in electing a leader who wants to distance the island as far as possible from the thuggish leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). There has been an assumption that Russia’s bogged-down assault on Ukraine might

Gangs of Tehran: how Iran takes out its enemies abroad

‘It was Friday afternoon, around 2.45. I came out of the house and was going towards the car on the driver’s side,’ Pouria Zeraati says casually. Zeraati – a presenter at the London-based TV station, Iran International – is recounting what was probably an Iranian state-sponsored attack. ‘I was approached by a man who pretended to be someone asking for £3. The second man then approached. They held me strong, very firmly, and the first person stabbed me in my leg.’ The Iranian regime is reshaping the murder-for-hire market in the US and parts of Europe Zeraati is talking on his first day back at work since he was knifed

Cindy Yu

Be more tiger mum!

‘What’s it to do with me if your boyfriend wants to break up with you? Or if you cried, or had a fight, these are not things that I as a supervisor care about. I’m not your mother. All I care about is results. Our relationship is just employee-employer.’ In a series of videos posted on Douyin (China’s version of TikTok), Chinese tech executive Qu Jing was a little too candid about her management style. Sharply dressed and with hair cut formidably short, she said she expected her staff to be on call 24 hours a day, including at weekends, even at the cost of their personal relationships. If Qu

Fools rush in: Mania, by Lionel Shriver, reviewed

Pearson Converse teaches literature at Verlaine University, Pennsylvania. She exists in an alternative universe to our own in which the Mental Parity Movement holds sway.  There is intellectual levelling, and no ‘cognitive discrimination’. This is high satire, exaggerated, crude, inviting ridicule of the social system portrayed, close to the great satirists of the 18th century in tone if not in style.   Yet Lionel Shriver’s Mania is more than just a satire. It is a study of Pearson’s family life and her ‘unbalanced’ relationship with her best friend from childhood, Emory. Pearson has three children: an intellectually gifted girl and boy by a high-IQ sperm donor, and an averagely intelligent

China’s vendetta against Nato

46 min listen

Last week, President Xi Jinping visited Serbia. An unexpected destination, you might think, but in fact the links between Beijing and Belgrade go back decades. One event, in particular, has linked the two countries – and became a seminal moment in how the Chinese remember their history. In 1999, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed by US-led Nato forces. Three Chinese nationals died. An accident, the Americans insisted, but few Chinese believed it then, and few do today. The event is still remembered in China, but now, little talked about in the West. Xi’s visit was timed to the 25th anniversary of the bombing itself. ‘The China-Serbia friendship, forged

What Xi wants in Europe

On a quiet street in Belgrade, a bronze statue of Confucius stands in front of a perforated white block, the new Chinese Cultural Centre. This is on the former site of the Chinese embassy which in 1999 was bombed by US-led Nato forces during the Kosovo war. Three Chinese nationals were killed. The Americans said the bombing was an accident, but the deaths allowed China and Serbia to share a common anti-Nato grievance. This week, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the bombing, Xi Jinping visited Belgrade and talked about the Sino-Serbian ‘bond forged with the blood of our compatriots’. He had been expected to visit the embassy

The traditional British hedge is fast vanishing

Five years ago, a documentary about the Duchy of Cornwall featured the then Prince of Wales in tweeds and jaunty red gauntlets laying a hawthorn hedge. It was a brilliant piece of PR. If Charles was a safe pair of hands with a hedge – something as quintessentially English as a hay meadow or a millpond – he was surely a safe pair of hands full stop. A cuckoo in one breeding season needs to eat about 22,500 hairy caterpillars Focusing on a hedge in south-west Wiltshire, Hedgelands combines history, celebration, lament and warning. Christopher Hart is a companionable writer, and makes a powerful case that, at a time of

Are all great civilisations doomed?

To quote Private Frazer in Dad’s Army, ‘We’re doomed, doomed!’ That seems to be the message of Paul Cooper’s eminently readable series of essays about how and why 14 civilisations rose to greatness and then collapsed. He begins with the Sumerians in the fourth millennium BC, at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf, and he finishes with Easter Island in the 18th century. He then concludes with dark prophecies about how a few centuries from now an overheated planet will look in a simpler post-industrial age. The style is informal, based on a series of popular podcasts, and one can almost hear the spoken word as one reads. Yet

How China is quietly cutting out American tech

32 min listen

Last week, President Joe Biden finally signed into law a bill that would take TikTok off app stores in the US, eventually rendering the app obsolete there. This is not the end of the saga, as TikTok has vowed to take legal action. In the US, the drive to decouple from Chinese tech continues to rumble on. In this episode, we’ll be taking a look at the reverse trend – the Chinese decoupling from American tech. It’s a story that tends to go under the radar in light of bans and divestments from the US, but you might be surprised at how much China is cutting out American tech too

Why was Blinken’s China visit so underwhelming?

It had been billed as an electrifying encounter – the US Secretary of State preparing to confront Beijing with a catalogue of global misdemeanours, ranging from stepped up support for Russian aggression against Ukraine to the intimidation of ships in the South China Sea belonging to US treaty ally, the Philippines, and the systematic breaking of world trade rules by flooding the market with heavily subsidised electric vehicles (EVs) and other renewable tech. ‘Russia would struggle to sustain its assault on Ukraine without China’s support,’ Antony Blinken said on Friday, at the end of a three-day trip that included meetings with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and with President Xi

The Xi files: how China spies

38 min listen

This week: The Xi files: China’s global spy network. A Tory parliamentary aide and an academic were arrested this week for allegedly passing ‘prejudicial information’ to China. In his cover piece Nigel Inkster, MI6’s former director of operations and intelligence, explains the nature of this global spy network: hacking, bribery, manhunts for targets and more. To discuss, Ian Williams, author of Fire of the Dragon – China’s New Cold War, and historian and Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins joined the podcast.. (02:05) Next: Lara and Gus take us through some of their favourite pieces in the magazine, including Douglas Murray’s column and Gus’s interview with the philosopher Daniel Dennett.  Then: Tim Shipman writes for The Spectator about

The Xi files: how China spies

Most states spy. In principle there’s nothing to stop them. But China’s demand for intelligence on the rest of the world goes far beyond anything western intelligence agencies would typically gather. It encompasses masses of commercial data and intellectual property and has been described by Keith Alexander, a former head of America’s National Security Agency, as ‘the greatest transfer of wealth in history’. As well as collecting data from government websites, parliamentarians, universities, thinktanks and human rights organisations, China also targets diaspora groups and individuals. Chinese cyber intrusions have targeted British MPs and stolen population-level data from the UK Electoral Commission database. In the US, meanwhile, Congress has just cracked

After TikTok, there’s another app we should ban

The American House of Representatives has passed a bill ordering Bytedance, a Chinese company, to divest from TikTok or stop operating in the USA. Their involvement in the app risks national security, the critics say. But what about other apps owned by Chinese companies? Should they be banned too? The most insidious part about Gauth? Look at the reviews. Apparently it gets the homework wrong. Gauth, or Gauthmath as it is known in the UK and elsewhere in the world, is a tutoring app designed to help children complete their homework in maths and science. It’s currently the #2 educational app in the Apple app store, and is targeted at

Was Marco Polo a ‘sexpat’?

25 min listen

When I recently came across a book review asking the question ‘was Marco Polo a “sexpat”?’, I knew I had to get its author on to, well, discuss this important question some more. The 13th century Venetian merchant Marco Polo’s account of China was one of the earliest and most popular travelogues written on the country. Polo spent years at the court of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis, and whose family founded the Yuan dynasty in China. My guest today, and the author of that book review, is the historian Jeremiah Jenne. Jeremiah has lived in China for over two decades, and he is also the co-host of the fascinating podcast Barbarians