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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning


Nov 29, 2023

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On this episode of Unsupervised Learning Razib talks to Carl Zha. Zha is a Sichuan-born China-commentator who had a long-term professional sojourn in southern California, before settling in Bali, Indonesia. He hosts the Silk and Steel podcast, which covers China, the Silk Road, and more general history, culture and geopolitics. Zha and Razib have known each other since the 2010’s, and often circle back to discussions of China, its history, politics and culture. The course of their conversations has spanned both the close of the “Chimerica” period of trade and political relations, and the more adversarial status that obtains in both the US and in the People’s Republic of China under Xi Jinping.

But first, Razib and Zha discuss what it’s like to live as an ethnic Han Chinese in Indonesia, albeit one who resides in Hindu-majority Bali, where Zha settled after marrying a local woman and becoming a father. Though Indonesia has an economically and politically powerful Chinese minority, it was also the scene of ethnic riots in the 1990’s and a genocide of Han Chinese in the 1960’s. Until recently, the state did not recognize Confucianism as a religion and discouraged Chinese names and Chinese-language schools. Nevertheless, Zha presents a relatively positive picture of relations on the island of Bali, where the Hindu population seems to have had an easier time integrating Han in a more syncretistic culture than in the Muslim-majority islands.

Then they discuss the pivot in US-China relations in the last half a decade, and the possibilities presented by great power rivalry. Razib and Zha address the thorny reality that though China and the US are now embarking on more explicitly adversarial geopolitics, their economic ties remain strong, with Chinese supply chains essential for American firms like Apple and the US consumer demand essential to propping up China’s vast export sector. Zha also offers a defense of Xi Jinping's rule and the prospects for China as it turns inward from the world, focusing on its domestic market and shoring up its geopolitical positions. The discussion turns to the range of likely outcomes in a world where the 21st century is both the American and Chinese century, and the two great powers remain both economically and geopolitically entangled through trade and numerous bilateral relationships with other nations.