A Cultural Misunderstanding: Liu Xin vs Trish Regan

According to critic and author Nathan Rich, without a cultural understanding of the American people, the Chinese would have missed the subtle nuances at play during the “debate” yesterday. Liu Xin spoke very well, her diction was clear, without any distracting accent and with good vocabulary. This was a great opportunity accorded to a Chinese citizen to inform the west from their perspective why there is a Sino-American trade war and what have been the barriers to end it. To successfully communicate a message, one needs great language skills which Liu Xin has but one also needs to bridge any cultural gap and overcome bias. To achieve that on a 20 minute tv show hosted by someone you’ve claimed to have fire in her eyes against the Chinese, well, that would be a stiff challenge. So, did she bridge the cultural gap and did she nullify Regan’s insinuations and attacks? For instance, Trish Regan opened the show by telling her viewers that “in the interest of transparency” she only speaks for herself and then introduced Xin with “my guest however, is part of the CCP (therefore she speaks for the Chinese Communist Party)….. did the Chinese viewers (or even Liu Xin for that matter) realise that Regan had already fired the first shot at her guest? Did they know that the American viewers would from her intro, have been informed that here is a communist in their midst airing propaganda and lies? Instead, Xin’s immediate response was a humble, respectful Chinese-style reply emphasising how unprecedented this was, a dream being invited to this show. That’s fantastic for a Chinese audience, being polite and appreciative but to a westerner, especially one from a Fox Network audience, she has simply admitted she is undeserving and was surprised to be invited. She then emphasised (and that’s when Regan began rambling on about something) that she is not a member of the CCP and she too is only speaking for herself. But, how many westerners know that being a citizen of communist China does not make her a member of the CCP? Undoubtedly, a proportion of the viewers would by then have dismissed her as a liar.

When asked for her assessment of the trade talks between the US and China, Xin lamely said “I don’t know, I don’t have any insider information”. A certain proportion of the audience, already with the opinion that she is a liar for the CCP, will think the opposite, that she does have insider information. So, that kind of reply isn’t helpful and certainly doesn’t bridge any cultural misunderstandings. Regan promptly suggested that trade wars are no good for anyone, but she forgot to say that President Trump started it and Xin didn’t remind her . Maybe some of her viewers will blame China for that.

Regan stated that China had stolen billions of dollars worth of IP. “It is not right to simply take what’s not yours.” She then asked a silly question. How do American businesses operate in China if they risk their Intellectual Property rights stolen? This is of course a question loaded with poison, aimed at her parochial American audience. Many of them wouldn’t know that there are many American businesses such as Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Apple stores lining the streets in China and lining their pockets with huge profits. Liu Xin agreed that there is clear consensus that some Chinese firms are guilty of IP thefts, but there are also many from every part of the world including the US guilty of the same. Making blanket statements about China being guilty of IP thefts isn’t helpful, she added. That unfortunately was easily washed away with a simple reply from Regan, “but it is not just a statement, it is multiple reports including evidence from the WTO.” You “should pay for the acquisition of these IP rights”. Unfortunately for Xin, she was not given a right of reply. Anyway, she should have stopped Regan right there and inform their audience that Regan’s assertion that China does not pay for using IP rights is false. China paid US$27.4 billion to foreign entities last year.

When asked when China would abandon their status as a developing nation and stop borrowing from the world bank, Liu Xin thanked her host for that reminder after replying that China does contribute to UN peace keeping and humanitarian efforts, and really wants to “grow up”. China may be ranked second in the world in terms of GDP, but is quite behind the US in terms of per capita GDP. Rather than emphasising to the viewers that the average Chinese income is about a sixth of that of an American and justifying why that still puts China in a developing nation category, she is thanking Regan for attacking China for using that status to gain unfair advantages from the WTO. WTF, that’s a cultural mismatch for sure.

Regan then talked about making changes to the tariffs, and Liu Xin basically said yes but changing the rules for how countries trade has to be done with mutual consensus and requires multi lateral decisions. Treaties cannot be unfairly agreed by force or won by war, not in the 21st century, hopefully. Regan then brought up the issue of forced technological transfer and informed us that America is now addressing this problem. Why was that brought up? To inform her audience America is right to use tariffs to fight the trade war against China? As if to justify that, Regan abruptly switched from the issue of forced technological transfer and questioned her guest about her opinion of China’s State capitalism instead. Liu Xin did not get the opportunity to tell the audience that the American companies weren’t forced with guns to their heads to part with their IPs. They were all hard won negotiations, those American firms would have had approvals from their board of directors to do that, with high expectations of raking in huge profits from doing business in China. Instead, Liu Xin duly skipped all that and went on to define China’s state economy as socialism with Chinese characteristics. This of course wouldn’t help break down cultural barriers with the American audience. “We want it to be a market economy but ….” But?! State owned enterprises playing an important but increasingly smaller role, maybe, in the economy. Maybe?! She actually explained it well, but the use of those two words “but” and “maybe” unfortunately diminished her otherwise convincing statement about the benefits of a well run state economy that efficiently channels investments to key sectors that are vital to the state. This is no different from most economies in the West where government budgetary policies incentivise certain sectors of the economy e.g. industries in renewal energy receiving government subsidies and tax breaks.

In the red corner, Trish “The Trash” Regan
In the Blue Corner, Liu Xin “ The Destroyer of Fake News”

Regan then advised Liu Xin that China needs to keep being open, quite strange isn’t it? Advising someone to advise China how to do better economically! How weird and condescending, considering that China has outperformed every country economically for the past three decades.

Regan used facial expressions, tone of voice, inappropriate cackles, and chose words with loaded messages that her local viewers would understand. As host, she controlled the ebb and flow of the interview, and with a prepared list of issues to focus on.

Liu Xin said in a later interview with a colleague that she was communicating from the bottom of her heart, with a genuine attempt to bridge the misunderstandings between the two peoples. Did she achieve that? Certainly she came across as genuine, intelligent, warm and friendly but from a western perspective, did urghhlings in the West gain a better insight into the real issues of the trade war? I wonder if many of the American viewers changed their stance after this interview.

Regan ended the interview by saying “no one wants a trade war”. Easy to fix that, right? Just call one urghhling to end it. After all, he started it! Regan of course was speaking to her audience, seemingly implying that it is China that has to end it, by kowtowing to the US.

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