In Episode 50 of the Impulso Podcast, we dive into the dynamic landscape of media, China, and politics with veteran journalist Keith Zhai. 

Keith has been covering China’s politics and policies for two decades at established and esteemed publications – The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg, and South China Morning Post.

In this episode, we uncover the evolution of international (and especially Western) media coverage on China from the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to the present, and explore the three distinct phases in this evolution.

 We also discuss common misconceptions about China (Hint: the top one is AI related) and the challenges of maintaining objectivity in reporting. 

Tune in to here us share about: 

  • The three phases of international media coverage on China over the years
  • Misconceptions about China and media bias 
  • Media’s portrayal of China and its impact on public perception
  • The nuances behind the logic of China 

Listen to the full podcast here:

Also available on Apple podcast.
And if you prefer, you can watch the podcast here:

[AI-generated transcript]

Sabrina  00:00

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the Impulso podcast in 2024. So today joining us, we have a very special guest, Keith Thai, who is a senior journalist. And he’ll be sharing more about his perspective on media, China and many other things. 

So Keith since this is the first time you’re on our podcast, maybe you could introduce yourself to our listeners.

Keith  00:23

Hey, guys, thanks for having me. This is Keith. And I’ve been working with different types of international media. I say that from the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Reuters, like on China related affairs, like you know, including politics, policies, diplomacy, like hack policy, so you can name it over the past, like, nearly 20 years. And so like I first started in Beijing for roughly 10 years, then moved to Singapore for seven years. So yeah, I mean, like anything about like, China related, I have like some sort of like, you know, like, as reporting over the years,

Jianggan  01:01

20 years? Well, that’s the period that the Lots of things have changed in China, and outside perception about China has changed, I mean, evolved dramatically over the last 20 years, because of various things happening, etc. So now you have, I mean, you mentioned that you were in Beijing, you moved to Singapore, and now you are in the sunny side, Silicon valley?

Keith  01:25

The Bay Area of Palo Alto, yes, I’m calling from Palo Alto, but yes, I’m in the Bay Area. Yes.

Jianggan  01:32

Yeah. So obviously, I mean, in Singapore, I mean, end of the year, beginning of the new year is the rainy season. So it’s quite, quite gloomy here. But I guess in Palo Alto its sunny.

Keith  01:45

Well, I mean, like, it’s actually raining here today, as well. But hopefully in a few days, we’ll come back to the sunny season, but now it’s definitely raining. Yeah.

Jianggan  01:56

But, its interesting, like, over 20 years. I mean, how do you see,the whole media thing evolved over the last 20 years, because nowadays, we get bombarded with  information. And that’s something which is not new. But its something that we probably can’t resolve because we continue to have more and more information sources. And, and for me, a judgement, at least for me, it has become actually a bit harder. If we just rely on media sources. What was your perception? You’re out of media, you can probably talk more freely.

Keith  02:29

I think, the past 20 years, like, you know, like instead of from, like media internally more from like, how we see from the audience perspective, because in a lot of cases, like how media reports how long China is really depends on like, how much, or what kind of information that audience wants to read about China. 

So I can say, like, when I first started, that was before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. So I started sometime around 2006, you know, 2005, to report on China? And so, like, Okay, so let me step back a little bit. Like, if we look at the whole, you know, like, whole 20 years, I think there are like, three periods of time. 

The first one is really like times around the United Beijing Olympics time. So that was a time like, you know, like, globally, lots of people, like from different parts of the world, the first time for them, like, okay, Beijing is something, you know, like, directly jump into their mind. Because before that, before the Beijing Olympics, or before that period of time, China to many people is just like a far, far east or like, Asian, ancient country, they don’t really know much about China, maybe apart from like pandas, you know, brick wall, I mean, like, even brick wall, maybe beyond lots of people’s knowledge. So people don’t really know much. 

But at the same time, like, you know, like, we had this, like, financial crisis, you know, like, and also, like, we had the Beijing Olympics, so that both of the events actually brought Beijing or China into people’s attention. And it’s almost like, all of a sudden, they realise, oh, my God, look at this country, you know, like, they’re so big, and they have, like, all kinds of like, are they starting to make all kinds of implications towards where I’m living, whether it’s like, in Europe, or whether like, in the US, you know, elsewhere in the world, that’s the first time I think that people really started to have this, like, you know, very broad understanding about China. And therefore, that time, like, you know, what they’re trying to get from media, you think about it, it’s like, you know, like, the first time we were trying to, like, get to know about someone. So basically, you want to know read or watch anything about this place, as in like, you know, kinds of quirky and weird stuff, you know, the people they’re, like, actually eat dog meat, you know, that, like one of the stories or they’re like, you know, like cancer villages, for example. You know, like how to environment pollution. Do people really like that, like, you know, living like that. So all sorts of questions were surrounding to this kind of topics. And that lasts for some years, like, you know, and that was also the time, like, lots of international media started to send their people like to Beijing, you know, like, that was definitely a boom of international like agencies like it stayed in Beijing to reporter wise, media coverage wise, that was like the starting of the whole entire baby boom era. 

And then like, the situation last for some years, you know, come to the stage of like 2012, sometime around that, you know, that was the time people, like, had enough, you know, like about, you know, those quirky weird news. And if we think about from the Wall Street from financial sectors and the business sectors, there are more interactions between China and the West, or like China and the rest of the world. So that part, like, you know, the transition started from like, you know, what is China to something about, you know, like, tell me more about China. 

So, that’s where,not only like the media organisations, but also, in the case of like, for example, like China experts overseas. I mean, like, that’s the part you can see media covering China, they start to cover all kinds of aspects. And that means, like, you know, politics, micro economy, and to finance, you know, different industries, like tech, and so and so, and those are like for, like, you know, China experts, like globalists, they say, you know, previously,as long as I can speak Chinese, and people can identify me as the China expert, but I think sometime around, 2010, 2012, that’s the time there were like Chinese experts on like, micro economy, for example. And there are like experts, precisely focusing on Chinese military development, for example. 

So there are more and more interest towards China from all kinds of aspects because, you know. That’s also the time Chinese companies started to make acquisitions and investments, everything like overseas. And also, like, more people come into China for travel, like, for tours and everything. 

What I’m saying is that that’s a time that people started to realise, oh, you know, like, some parts of my life has something to do with this country. So I want to know more. So that’s the highlight here, you know, like, from media perspective, that’s the best business to report on China, because people in this mood, that is, you know, tell me more, like, tell me more everything, like, you know, about this country. So that’s, like, I would say, like, phase two. 

And then, I think the peak area will be sometime around 2015, you know, like, when some of the Chinese conglomerates, like Alibaba and others started to make massive acquisitions overseas, you know, like, and that really applied to all kinds of sectors. And in Europe, in the US, particularly, like, people started to aware, you know, oh my god, like, Oh, what is going on with this economic superpower,in a way that, you know, like, these countries realise how big the Japanese economies were, like, you know, back in the 1980s. So, that’s, that’s phase two. 

And now we move to the next stage, which is, I think the tradition started from sometime around 2021, actually, like, only about like, two years ago, or like, 2020, I’m just giving you this, like, rough idea of that timeframe. But I think that’s the moment like, you know, when China punished DiDi for their IPO, for example. And all these are changes, in the tech regulations, in education and all kinds of sectors. That’s where Wall Street in the US and all the other companies in the West started to realise, okay, this country is becoming too risky for my investment. So I need to find diversified solutions. 

And, and that’s also the time like this whole decoupling between the two largest superpowers of the world, China and the US, started to evolve. I think for now, like it become a stage that you know, like the audience, you know, like they don’t really want to know all kinds of like fundamental issues about China because it’s they don’t really have like skin the game, or like whenever they try to make investment, they don’t really considering new investment. So if they don’t consider new investments, why do they bother to know more about this country? 

Sabrina  10:00

That’s a very interesting summary of the three phases of the evolution of China in the media. Right. And you’ve been covering China for about two decades. What do you think are some common misconceptions that you see maybe back then versus now? And how are they different? Or how are they similar?

Keith  10:16

That’s something I’ve been reflecting over the past like few years as well. So one thing definitely is like, for example, the current thing is, if you look at media, actually, I spoke to lots of people in the Silicon Valley as well. You know there are lots of readers, they look at all the coverage or media, they will be like, Oh, China’s AI is massive. I mean a lot of people argue, like, China’s AI is much stronger compared to the US was, which I don’t think is true. I think it’s really far from the fact. 

But if you read from media coverage, I mean, what I’m saying is the English media coverage. That’s definitely some of the like conceptions, like from misconceptions from the public. And the reason why I think it’s largely because, you know there’s a tendency, because the China threat as the theme, so there’s so definitely, over the past few years, there’s like a strong tendency that to portray China as evil or a very strong force. I think the evil part, we can put that aside, but whether China is like that strong or not, I think that’s really questionable, like, debatable. But in lots of cases where media cover like trying to, I mean, like, in way, they have to say, Oh, this is very, you know, like, a strong nation, they can do this, do that, you know, like, all these things, but whether like China can deliver, like those expectations from like, international media, I think that’s definitely, like, questionable. 

So China’s AI me, for example, is not as strong as what media can, like, portray, or the other thing is, like, you know, kind of soft power. I think that’s probably the most obvious case. I mean if China’s soft power is really that strong, then China is going to have a different image globally, whereas we know, like, China’s soft power, it’s like, maybe pushing the perception towards a country like, elsewhere, like, you know, yeah, different direction. So at the end, these are very, like, obvious and typical examples for that.

Jianggan  12:29

Strong, evil power. And, of course, people want to, is that people want to know about things be evil, or just portray something as evil as it sells? You mentioned, just now, media is a business. Right? And, and, of course, people rely on the media for the trust. So at the end of the day, there’s always a fine balance. I mean, I think that this topic has been discussed over and over, and how do you maintain that balance on what sells and what is actually objective?

Keith  13:04

I think it’s really, it’s very hard to come to like, one conclusion, like, I mean, like, one simple conclusion. I mean, like, definitely the whole misconception towards China,as we were saying, like, the strong, almighty, powerful country or party,I think this whole idea is really from, you know, caused by different reasons. 

But like, one side, of course, from the Chinese government perspective, they never really able to tell their stories well, I mean, like, that’s something they are really bad at, really. And also, at the same time, because of the distrust between China in the US, you know, like, there are not many, like international media reporters are still based in China. So what I’m saying is, if you really read the stories about China these days, a lot of the stories are really about, like, you know, the power, you know, the party, the government, you know, but you don’t really have the ordinary people like in that story. And that also, because, you know, like, how that partially because like China, both China and like, the whole, global geopolitical issues they’ve made, reporters from international media like to operate in China, very tough. So, it’s very hard to get any, like ordinary Chinese to speak to international media, not to mention, very interesting or strong anecdotal codes. 

So what I’m saying is, like, the missing elements of like ordinary Chinese is definitely there. And that also contribute to this, like, you know, very broad and sweeping narrative. So, of course, like, you know, lots of reporters these days I mean, I because you reporting from elsewhere, they not really like speaking the language at the same time. And many of them didn’t really speak in the language like how much they can learn or how much you can know about this country, right? I mean, like, yes certain case, I think like, you know, like, it’s similar to like the I like there was an anecdote like back in the days, like, during the Cultural Revolution. So this guy at the time, like, you know, like a foreign reporters, they all had to be based in Hong Kong, to write about China. And, of course, there’s very little like, you know, channels, you can know what’s going, you can understand what’s going on in Beijing. So how people will do that. So like, what people will do is like, I mean, reporters at the time, what they will do is like, they read the People’s Daily, or other like official like media, and trying to look at all the pictures that appeared in the front page of people’s daily and see, like, who’s missing. So if this official, senior official missing from like, you know, the front page of The People’s Daily for like, a week, let’s say, then, like, they can just try to come to a conclusion, right? So I say, Oh, this guy might be in trouble, blah, blah, blah, you know, like that kind of story. 

So, I’m not saying like, right now, it’s like, in a similar stage, I’m not saying right now is in the same stage, but definitely is in a similar state, as he, like, people are reading tea leaves about what’s going on in China.

Jianggan  16:30  

You mean, previously, many years ago, I mean, because people didn’t have enough access to what’s happening with ordinary people in the country, the real businesses and stuff. I mean, the stories that they get are limited. They try to speculate based on I don’t know, though, to the few signs that’s coming out. And also,some judgments is important to have this person the face on the pasta, etc. 

And, of course, there was a phase where there were lots of journalists in China, and they speak with ordinary people, they report on stories. And, and of course, I mean, the eating dog, or whatever they choose, issues, a three dimensional sign of the society that people can get a sense and make a judgement. But now it’s becoming again, a little bit more abstract, because you don’t get enough information. And a few narratives will dominate. So we don’t have you don’t have this, like a full, like three dimensional sort of different perspective narratives then showing you and make your own judgement.

Keith  17:30 

Yes, and what’s even worse is that, you know, like, a whole, like, Twitter, social media thing, you know, like, so, I mean, they’re, they’re all like random accounts, you know, like, Chinese language, social media, or like English, whatever, like on Twitter, right. And those report, I mean, accounts, they may have like, random rumours, like make up, like, you know, random stuff. And they publish it. 

And then some Chinese readers, or like, Chinese audience, like overseas, you know, like, they read those rumours. And then what they’re gonna do is, they’re gonna pass like to their, like, friends, or whatever, relatives back in China, through like, say, WeChat and other channels, say, Oh, I saw this. This is interesting, I saw this. And then because like, it’s like, from like, overseas, like people, sometimes people domestically, they will be like, Oh, that’s interesting, and might be true. Because, you know, like, from my friends from the US and he heard about this, this could be true. 

And then, like, what is more interesting is that we know, like, that these people, right? When this becoming like, circulated as a rumour domestically in China, you know, like, there will be channels to pass this information to people overseas. I mean this time, it will be the English speaking audience. So for the English speaking audience, they’ll be like, oh, you know, like, I heard about this, like, from like, my friends in China, it must be true. Right? And then this thing that can somehow, like, translate becomes coverage on international media, because, you know, like, it flows like everywhere, you know, like, so, like, reporters, you know, now based overseas, they may like, start to report this. 

And then like, once the media actually reports it, it’s pretty much like a recognition saying, Okay, this is a fact, this is true. So that’s the whole life cycle, in lots of cases, made the rumour become like public knowledge.

Jianggan  19:44

I mean, you just described how fake news came out. Without the deliberate set of actions at the back, but I think just now what you mentioned about the AI thing, right? So people think, okay, AI, China’s more advanced, is massive, I think you must have lots of friends who are working in the AI sector in China, I have lots of friends as well. And, what they have been, what my friends have been telling me, the challenges they face, sometimes a bit desperate, not desperate. But sometimes they feel that very envious of companies need us, which can actually develop the models, and they are bogged down with enterprise clients who may or may not pay. So and on the other hand, they have like an investor sort of pressure for them to grow the top line, so they can get more bogged down with enterprise customers. And those kind of stories actually do not get out at all. 

And, for instance, I mean, sensetime, the founder passed away a few days ago, right. But people that people talk about last time they talk about, okay, it’s spying on the Uyghurs, it’s an export by different countries using that foil for its evidence state. But, nobody seemed to care about the business model of this country and the struggle they have, right. I mean, they tried to build their own sort of proprietary technology. And, and but but somehow, because of whatever reasons, like, they don’t have that luxury that that AI companies in the US would have,

Keith  21:16

I think, analogy could be made in, in something like, you know, like, I suppose you have some ex girlfriends? I suppose. Let’s say like that? I think everybody would I really like it. Yeah, exactly. So what I’m saying is actually that, you know, like, you can compare, like, you know, like, let’s say I break up with like, this girlfriend, how much of her life? Would you still want to know? How much details? Would you still like to learn about this person’s life? Maybe not so much. Like, you care about, like, you know, whether this person like, you know, she’s still like, has a good life or not, maybe, but largely, that’s about it, you don’t really care about what kind of food she is, you know, what kind of like, drinks she’s having every day, like those are not your business anymore. 

So what I’m saying is that, you know, because of the lack of investment interests, between like China and the US, or between the investors and business people for both sides, and people don’t really care about, you know, like, business or loss. I mean, I’m when I say, like, people, I’m making it more generic. I mean, of course, there’ll be people I still care about, but I’m just saying, talking about the general public. I think General public the last inches that, you know, like, all these details, because, you know, like, for example, like, like, sensetime, like the modal struggles, and this and that. I mean, first of all, I mean, like, why would an ordinary reader from the US would care, right? I mean, they don’t have skin in the game, they’re not making an investment, because it’s bad actually like in the US, right? So they can’t really make any investment so they don’t care. 

And even like, for companies, you know, like, I mean, like, SHEIN or Temu or these companies, right? In lots of cases, this discussion is really about like, you know, their connections like with, you know, shinjang cotton, or, like, so and so, so on and so forth. It’s not really about like, you know, like, their business model, you know, why they can sell the cheaper stuff. It’s like, in lots of cases, people are come into a easier conclusion and say, oh, you know, like, they use cheap labourers they use like, you know, like a cheap sotton, by which actually, those are not necessarily the truth. 

It is, I think, it’s also like, I think larger what I’m saying is, like, you know, like the, the lack of the reporting or the lack of the curiosity to words or know the details, because, like, there are very limited, you know, like economic interactions between the two sides. And so if the readers don’t really care much, why the media should care

Jianggan  24:23

Was it imited economic interactions, but what we have seen is that the trade is still growing and and obviously with companies like Temu, etc. So the supply chain of China is, trying to expand or because of his overcapacity, and they are facilitators, trying to help them expand across the globe. So, economically I think, I think it’s intertwined, right, so so it’s, it’s not exactly there’s limited.

Keith  24:57

Yeah, so I mean, like the supply chain, of course, like China has like, the strongest supply chains, like in the world. And that’s no problem, right? That makes like, actually, as you were saying Temu and SHEIN all these companies like flourish. And what I’m saying is really about, like, you know, you think about like for, like MNC is like a, you know, like international big companies from the West, are they still making a lot of new investments in China? So if I’m not making a lot of new investments in China, why should they want to know every details about this country, and therefore, the logistic part is like I buying things from all I care is whether you can pay me the money, if you I mean, like whether you can deliver the goods. And if you as long as you can deliver your goods? That’s okay. I don’t care about anything else. 

I mean, like, there are lots of discussions over the past like, say, like, a few years ever since the trade war. But actually like, supply chain decoupling is probably the hardest. But that doesn’t mean much. That doesn’t mean much. I mean, like, it’s like China, US, they still have lots of conversations in the senior leaders level, right? And there conversations at other channels as well. But like, so what, right, like, you know.

If you look at, back in the days, you know, between Soviet and the US, there were lots of like communication channels as well. But it doesn’t stop them, like getting into the Cold War. So what I’m saying is like a supply chain, like has always been there, like, you know, and will be there, unless, you know, like the company’s, they find a way to diversify all their supply chains from China to elsewhere, which is extremely, extremely tough. Because, you know, you look at all the supply chain, it’s now built over the past year, actually, it’s something built over the past, like 20 30 40 years, right. So I mean, like, that’s part like, it’s really hard to get to replace, but that doesnt mean the two sides to have a very intimate relationship.

Jianggan  26:59

When the the prevailing narrative has become abstract, I think two specific questions. I mean, first, obviously, for people whose whose lives are still get impacted. I mean, for people who, I don’t know, say, if you’re American business competing against Temu in the US, how do you get sort of accurate understanding about exactly what’s powerring them? I mean, I talked about this because in 2017, I remember when I was in the Middle East. And that’s when the ecommerce companies, they’re starting to seem like competition from Chinese companies, cross border companies, like jollychic back then, SHEIN was emerging. And, and it’s very hard for them to get information about what’s really going on behind these companies. So they had, of course, I mean, you wouldn’t find that much coverage, or you wouldn’t find much detail in the coverage in media,  and, and it’s difficult for you to actually go there and I mean, go to the country and figure things out yourself.

So when that happens, I mean, what can people do? If your life is still impacted, used to be still has, has a connection to the country and with all this, like a, you know, abstract sort of image messages portraying the evil power and and things, for me I have been trying very hard to resist, resist the headlines, right? Because headlines anchor your beliefs about things. And if you believe too much in the headlines and what your understanding might be very different from reality, and sometimes you need to make decisions based on that.

Keith  28:19

Yeah, I think, I mean, like, I think that really depends on like, where, who are we talking about? I don’t think the general public they care much about like, you know, what is actually going on? Right? If you think about it, I mean, like, the only thing I car   e is like whether I can get cheap goods from Temu or like SHEIN, etc, etc. Right? So I don’t really care, like, you know, like, the logic behind it. 

And also like for, I think for, for lots of the people I think I’m like, Yeah, elsewhere, like outside of China. I don’t know. I mean, like, even like, from the company’s perspective, I mean western companies, I mean, the market is still like, you think about the overall market and ours, it’s big enough to have like multiple players. So I think like, you know, like in your way that of course, SHEIN and Temu are big, but it’s not necessarily like that to say that they replace Amazon and others, like Walmart or Target like, they they’re not there yet. And so and then, like we come to the stage that you know, if we think about that people will actually like care is is becoming like a very small group of people that you know, like either your founders have, like, you know, like all these I mean, founders of like, you know, like their stores on Shopify, for example, or like, you know, like, the CEO, executives of Walmart, you know, like, Target, so and so and so forth. So I think like the group of people is very limited, after all. 

And those are some investors, for example, right? They’re making investments towards that PDD, and others. And for those people, they’re gonna do lots of detailed examinations beyond headlines, as you were saying, so like, for those people like that, of course, there are these kind of people, but all I’m saying is that the size, who actually wants to know more about China has shrink dramatically over the past few years. And, and headlines, I mean, like, it’s just like, it’s the nature of the business became, I mean, like, everybody has to fight for the screen time. And so does the media. And I mean, how this media can compete with, you know, like, the much more sexier headlines from like, TikTok you know, and social media, it’s getting very, very tough.

Jianggan  30:46

Do you think that I mean, media as I don’t know, objective, kind of, I mean, sort of coverage with certain standards? That’s, that’s definitely, I mean, it’s almost you risk it will limit to a smaller audience who still want to be more informed, compared to people who are driven by headlines, because you’re saying that you can’t compete against different headlines?

Keith  31:10

Yeah, well, like I mean, like, from, I think, like, largely like media, right, its for public interest. So in a way the media has always been write for the public, rather then like, right, for, like a small group of people. And so that’s this untouchable. And that part, I think, you know, like, like, it’s not really, I mean, like, I think largely like media reporters, like, you know, like covering China, there are like, you know, like, are they trying to be not biassed, they’re trying to be like, a, you know, like, provides the nuanced views. I still, like trust that many of them, they have the good intentions. But the challenge is, like, you know, when you have very limited access about this country, you know, like that you report him wrong? How would you do? I mean, like, how would you trust, you know, some of the sources you got, you know, like, the information you got, it’s a very tough decision to make, after all. 

And also, like, I think, if you think from the reporter’s perspective, I mean, like, even like ordinary people’s perspective, right? Let’s say like, my mom, for example, I mean, like, she doesn’t know much about the US and, like, what, whatever she read from the Chinese domestic media, about the US, you know, like, she has a very, you know, like, interesting view, let’s put it this way, like, towards the US. And is that because she has bad intentions? No, it’s just like, the type of information you received. Right? And, I mean, like, you can totally imagine, like, you know, a reporter covering China, let’s say, from New York or DC, you know, like, without much access to the, to the domestic group of people at large, how this person to get information about China. 

So I think like, it’s, it’s unfortunate, you know, state, that it’s not really about, like, you know, they’re good players, bad players, it’s because, you know, the whole trajectory of geopolitical tensions, and everything brought us to the stage. And it’s gonna be a lose lose situation, as well. I mean, there’s no winners to be the

Sabrina  33:30

Last question for today. Yeah. There are a lot of headlines that are sort of trying to create a narrative, right, but for individuals who themselves want to be informed on what is actually happening, and really understanding the nuances behind these geopolitical issues, or to better understand China, what is some advice that you will give to these readers?

Keith  33:50

Well, I think it says that Singapore, like playing where it has played a very important role, you know, way that it’s a bilingual, you know, like in a multicultural state, you know, and the benefits are for, you know, like, anyone who can read, you know, both the Chinese and English I think that really helps. So, like, I mean, like, I mean, like, both sides. I mean, I think I can’t remember whether that’s from like Mark Twain, or anyone, like, you know, one of those like, famous, you know, like people in the world who are saying like, you know, during the time of war, there’s no news. There’s only propaganda. And that comes from any state, you know, it’s not just China or the US or anywhere, it’s like, it’s a nature of our human history. 

So what I’m saying is, like, you know, like, I would only I, what I can do is like, you know, I could read a variety of information from both of the world. And then like, you know, try to digest myself, there’s really like, no good to go to place. You know, like, they say, I read this paper and they have like, my 100%, accurate non biassed information, it’s impossible. So the best thing is to do is like to read multiple sources and, and think with logic, sometimes, like, when you read the headline, think about, like, when you read a news piece, you know, like you think you get, like, you take another layer down there, you think about, okay, is this possible? Why they want to do this? And if you think like, this is not logically possible, and like, there’s no intention for whatever, like, you know, players like to do this like this, then like, in that case, this news may not necessarily be like a true story.

Jianggan  35:45

But, then the logic can be different, right? So for instance, I mean, there’s lots of abstract sort of portrayal of the Communist Party of China and, and the ruling party of China, whether it’s communists or whatever, I mean, they are descendants on lots of historical baggage or, or history of China, which, which makes them act and think in a certain way. And that way might be different from what people outside would naturally perceive that there are certain things which are imbued in logic of how the government, how the the establishments, act, on certain things might be different from the logic outside, but for outsiders, it’s very difficult to understand that logic, right?

Keith  36:28

Well, yes, that’s definitely true. But then, like, you know, like, my practice has always been, like, you know, like, you look at from human nature, humanity, I think, is the same, like or, you know, whoever the person is, or whatever, like the country is, or the political state that people are at, you know, so what I’m saying is, like, you know, company or like any decision makers, right, every time when they try to do something, to a certain extent, there has to like, human level, you know, like higher level or logic behind, if this then doesn’t fit into like, all these logics, you know, like, why would this person still doing that? So I think that’s the bigger question. 

So where like, you know, like, for example, right, there are lots of discussions or like stories about like, oh, you know, like, Temu, SHEIN they’re using like cheap labourers you know, like in order to get the cheaper price. So, like the all kinds of stories, but the thing is, like, you know, like you think about it, you know, like, Nike like h&m, Zara, like all these companies are making productions like in China, right? I mean, like, if SHEIN and Temu the only ones using cheap labourers, like, would that even be possible? I mean, like, why would the worker should work for, you know, somewhere paying a higher price, you know, like, but willing to sacrifice everything to work for these two companies only, I’m not saying that they paying a lot better now there’s but what I’m saying is like, you know, just like, I mean, like, like in this business, I think everybody is like paying the cheaper price. You know, its not like unique in any sense. 

Jianggan  38:11

I mean, I visited lots of a couple of SHEIN suppliers on my own actually this year without like facilitation by SHEIN and amazingly that many of these people speak very highly of SHEIN they said that okay, well being we have difficulties attracting workers and SHEIN give me subsidy so that I can install air conditioning in my in my workshop so that I’m more competitive in attracting the workers compared to the others. But of course,in media you never see these kind of stories coming out. And and but but probably back to you, to your problem, nobody gets access to these people. And these people, when they talk to international media, they become very careful because they don’t want to be like a misquotes because of the prevailing narrative out there. 

My last question, yeah. How can we be optimistic about 2024? I mean, when I look around, I mean, 2023 has been gloomy for everyone. And of course, there are certain things which will probably not change internally for but but how to how to remain optimistic.

Keith  39:13

Well we are all going to be replaced by AI and we don’t have to work that’s something we can be very optimistic about. Put jokes aside I think you know, like I don’t know. I mean, like optimism, I mean, like, I’m a very optimistic person, like, by all means. So like, I always can find like something and like to be very optimistic about. So for example, I mean, like, next year, I don’t I mean, like, given like China, US, or both of the leaders, they just not I think like, you know, largely, there won’t be any, like, huge conflict in terms of like, you know, like, like military like conflict or so, like something like that? I don’t think so. So that’s something optimistic. Like, you can’t expect to, you know, what I’m saying is like, you have to set it, like, what I’m saying is like, you have to set your expectation very low. So you can see everything very optimistic. You know, I think the problem for this year, as you mentioned, Jianggan is that lots of people had, you know, like, very high expectations earlier of the year, they thought, Okay, this gonna be like, you know, boom, year, and then turns out it wasn’t. And that’s the gap. May lots of people feel like, you know, either depressed or desperate? I think. So as people don’t have any high expectations, and everything will be very rosy.

Jianggan  40:40

Of course, and next year, there will be the fun time of not sure whether it is politically correct to say that but a fun time of US elections, right. I mean, with the potential of Trump running and stuff. Nobody knows what will happen between now and election. But, definitely will not be an ordinary year again I guess.

Keith  41:02

Yeah, that’s a good point. Right. I mean, I particularly because people know, this year will be the election year. And people know, like, when during the time of election in the US, you know, will be a, could be tensions between China and the US. And that’s precisely I would have thinking because we’ll have very low expectations towards the year, so like I saw as they don’t have any, like a very strong tensions, that’s a good outcome. Because last year, the problem was that people expect, you know, like, if that was the year before the election, so like the two countries will have like all kinds of like rosy things to do. And turns out it wasn’t or like it wasn’t as as much as people expected. And that’s the gap started.

Jianggan  41:52

That’s that’s like, over the past, I don’t know, 2000 or 3000 years, I mean, people in China have been able to, to withstand through all the challenges, turmoil and stuff is exactly by having low expectations. But anyway, thank you very much for your time. I know it’s a bit late, where you are, I can see its dark in your background. And of course, people like to us in Singapore, don’t appreciate that. I mean, I don’t know travelling to home actually takes time.

Sabrina  42:55

So thank you guys for listening to another episode of the impulso podcast and we’ll see you again next week.


Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].