Instead of meeting Liu He in a formal setting, Trump took a different approach and had a warm conversation with Liu in the Oval Office, with Trump behind his executive desk and Liu sitting in a nearby chair. Such seating arrangement was misinterpreted by many on the overseas Chinese Twitter as Trump’s way to humiliate Liu He. People also relished Liu He’s slip of the tongue. While it isn’t too bad when politicians also provide entertainment value, entertainment can only be a sideshow to the meat-and-potatoes politics. When political commentators become gossip-mongers, they risk misleading the public and themselves as well. The essence of the US-China trade negotiations is to talk business. As with business negotiations, when talks break down, both sides stand to lose.
I have repeatedly emphasized this unpopular view in the past months, that neither Trump nor Xi is willing to see a full-blown trade war. The view that Trump has a strong upper hand over China and faces no pressure to cut a deal is wishful thinking by those who are ill-informed of politics or business. This is not the New Cold War. A “hot war” involving military conflict is certainly out of the question.
Social media radicalizes people’s opinions. Some of the extreme comments are just pent up frustrations people need to get off the chest. Outlandish conspiracy theories have an enduring appeal on social media. They are conjured up and floated by those who live in a society deprived of press freedom, due to for example government censorship. Some of the most extreme and sinister remarks on social media have to be understood from the point of view of pathology.
Social media is a fantasy world. You see love and wisdom that you’ve never encountered in real life. Yet you also see an overwhelming amount of hatred and animosity. For those who do nothing but launching vicious attacks and hurling salacious claims, I recommend that they see a psychiatrist.
But when it comes to real issues, let’s unplug from social media and get back to reality. Both business negotiations and political tug-of-war require actual power and skill. In the real world, we also have law as the guidepost for minimally acceptable behavior.
In China where civil discussions are heavily censored, the public is used to relying on unconventional methods to seek out political information. At a time when government officials of various levels are paying New Year calls to the "old comrades"(retired senior officials) , people are poring over the list of "old comrades" visited, trying to read the tea leaves on the future destinies of those whose names are left out. The absence of Zhang Changping 张昌平 and Li Wei 李伟 from the list has piqued some suspicion.
The "old comrades", albeit retired from their official posts, still enjoy the many privileges of current officials. Not only is the notion of "old comrades" a key feature of CCP's personnel system, but it's also the cornerstone of its governance: a community of current and former officials with shared interests bound together by corruptions.