Discover more from balajis.com
Only Newsom Can Go To China
If Nixon and Mao came to an accord, so might Newsom and Xi.
They have that power.
They too have that power.
In fiction, the Party member was O’Brien. But in our reality, the Party member is Newsom. That’s Gavin Newsom: former mayor of San Francisco, current governor of California, and possible future President of the United States of America if Biden is firmly escorted off the stage.
As we’ll detail, Newsom recently pulled off an under-reported diplomatic coup by not only getting a rare in-person meeting with Xi Jinping, not only getting Chinese state-run media to sing his praises, but apparently getting1 Xi to come out in person to the Nov 11-17 APEC Summit in his home city of San Francisco, California.
In advance of Xi’s visit, Newsom just held up a hand and rolled up SF’s seemingly permanent homeless encampments. He spent the political capital to do this, overriding all the Democrats paid by the city to feed drugs to addicts. Of course, Newsom could have done this at any time2 to the homeless industrial complex, but why now? Because their local business model is temporarily less important than his global power model: the question of how to hold onto power for his Party when his country is in decline.
If Newsom pulls it off, we may soon see rapprochement between the farthest culturally left party in the world (the ultra-woke American Democrats) and the farthest culturally right party in the world (the ultra-nationalist Chinese Communists). That is, after the last few years of kicking and screaming, the declining Democrats may actually settle for a power-sharing agreement with the Communists to become their allies — and perhaps eventually their clients. At least, that’s certainly what Chinese state-run media seems to think of Newsom’s visit!
Xinhua: “Welcome more Newsoms to come”
I mean, “Welcome more Newsoms to come”?!?
As for Newsom himself, he marketed the visit in terms of “combating xenophobia” and “solving the climate crisis” — appealing to Democrat moral values to forestall an online mob — but he also managed to squeak in “economic development & tourism” and then more firmly state that “divorce is not an option”… all of which is really quite different from the current administration’s push to “slow China’s innovation rate” and to decouple/derisk.
I mean, look…I’m not a warmonger. I’m on record as saying that a US/China war would be disastrous for the world. And so in that limited sense, yes, detente between the US and China is preferable to World War 3. But Newsom and Xi aren’t universally known for putting the best interests of their people at heart. So we should ask questions.
First, to say the least, this is a dramatic tonal change from the last few years of US/China relations. When’s the last time you heard an American politician say that "China’s success [will] benefit the world!” or Chinese state-run media say that they welcome more visits?
Something has changed. And while it might not be formally announced for some time, it’s not too early to start thinking about what a Democrat/Communist pact might look like, of the kind that Xinhua seems to already be foreshadowing. Maybe something like this?
Oh, wait. That’s the good version, full of cooperation on “dealing with the spread of infectious diseases.” Only a cynic would point out how the last big US/China collaboration on infectious diseases ended up…and only such a cynic would say that the bad version of a Democrat/Communist pact might look something like this:
That’s more like it: content moderation with Chinese characteristics! It’s just part of what we’ve been vectoring towards for years. Looked at the right way, this last decade was essentially about copying China without admitting it, from the Atlantic pushing for China-style censorship to NYT calling for China-style industrial policy.3
All of that is precedent for what a Democrat/Communist pact might look like. Think about how Hollywood came to rely on Chinese money, preaching civil rights while practicing selective censorship…but at country scale. A Democrat/Communist pact could be a return to Obama-era Chimerica, but on different terms, where China becomes at least an equal partner and perhaps eventually the unofficial driver.
With that said — yes, the silver lining of such a rapprochement is that we could avoid WW3. But it’s a monkey’s paw outcome, because detente would allow Democrats and Communists to focus on their many other enemies within and without — from American conservatives to Chinese liberals, from India to the Internet. And so the implications for everyone that isn’t a Democrat or Communist are ominous.
Now, I fully grant that Chinese state media “welcoming more Newsoms to come” isn’t yet an official announcement of more Newsoms to come. I further grant that Newsom announcing that he wants to be “China's long-term, stable and strong partner” does not yet mean that he is China’s long-term, stable, and strong partner.
But you gotta admit, it is suggestive.
So, this is a speculative post about (a) why a Democrat/Communist pact is possible and (b) what the implications would be for each faction if it goes through. It’s just a scenario, of course, but there are enough signals in this direction for it to be worth contemplating.
Why a Democrat/Communist Pact is Possible
First, a Brief History
To understand where we might go, we need to understand where we’ve already been. From 1972 (when Nixon went to China) and 1978 (when Deng turned China capitalist), until 2015 (when Trump escalated with China), the US and China were basically at peace.
Neither Democrat nor Republican leadership cared much about low-wage jobs being sent to China over this period, because (a) these were initially at the bottom of the value chain, (b) environmental and labor regulations made them infeasible in the US anyway, (c) victory in the Cold War meant China would eventually convert to democracy, (d) the rightist value of free trade and the leftist value of cosmopolitanism meant that it’d be both expensive and immoral to favor Americans, and finally and most importantly (e) China was perceived as a submissive third-world sweatshop that wasn’t capable of posing a real threat to the global hyperpower.
As a consequence, the American public didn’t care about China until 2020, when media coverage suddenly shifted sentiment.
A more detailed timeline lets us see why this shift happened in 2020.
1991: When Krauthammer writes “The Unipolar Moment”, China gets only the briefest of mentions and isn’t taken seriously as a threat.
2011: After the financial crisis, NYT even proposed selling Taiwan to China for $1T in debt forgiveness, signaling how little the US cared.
2015: Trump saw an opportunity with blue collar Republicans harmed by offshoring, pushed China to the forefront (“China, China, China”), and was mocked as a racist for doing so. During the Trump years, Russia was the primary antagonist rather than China.
2019: Obama releases American Factory, a movie promoting peace and trade with China as an implicit rebuke to Trumpism. But in the same year, China defeats what they saw as US-backed democracy activists in Hong Kong, escalating negative sentiment within China towards the US and vice versa.
Mid 2020: This is the flip. Once COVID goes pandemic, the US establishment fully flips to copying China while also attacking China. This happened most obviously on lockdowns, but also on speech controls, “industrial policy”, and even mimetic rivalry on Taiwan.4
They also allowed people to speak about the lab leak theory — before the election it was politically useful to blame Trump alone, but after the election it was politically useful to acknowledge China may have been responsible.
All of this anti-China turn was wrapped in cynically patriotic rhetoric — just a few months after tearing down George Washington and declaring America systemically racist, Democrats suddenly repositioned themselves as super-patriots to the right of Republicans on China.
Hot war with Russia and trade war with China both escalate. Inflation is acknowledged as dangerous after it was denied, and Treasury really wants foreign buyers (especially China) to resume buying declining US bonds.
Then some Democrats start to realize they’re losing in Ukraine, have a new front opening in Israel, aren’t actually able to build a domestic version of TSMC, and can’t possibly produce enough shells, ships, or conscripts to fight a real war with China.
Meanwhile, China ships the Huawei Mate 60 Pro (showing that US sanctions don’t work), supports Putin publicly (showing that they aren’t deterred by US sanctions), and imposes Micron sanctions (showing that they can also sanction the US).
Now center left pundits have begun acknowledging that Pax Americana is over, that the US is economically in dire straits, that it can’t really fight two wars let alone three, that it faces military and financial limits — and that it might not actually be able to take China in a fight.
That’s likely why a procession of senior Democrats has been going to China, from Blinken (June) to Yellen (July) to Raimondo (August) to Schumer (October), to get a deal of some kind. They’ve all been snubbed in various deniable ways…until Newsom somehow managed to get not just a smiling handshake from the normally impassive Xi, but a stunning in-person visit by Xi to his home turf of San Francisco.
The Five Why’s of Why We See Xi
Why do we see Xi meeting with Newsom and then flying out to San Francisco for an in-person meeting at an eminently skippable summit in the middle of the chilliest period for American/Chinese relations in decades? Toyota has something called the Five Why’s, which we can use here.
Why are SF’s streets suddenly clean? Because Xi is coming.
And why is Xi coming? Because Newsom likely got him to come, as the trip wasn’t confirmed before Newsom’s meeting.
And how did Newsom do that, when so many others failed? He may have promised him something.
Again, the context that’s been underreported is that everyone else from the Democrats has been trying something like this, but all of them failed. Blinken, Yellen, Raimondo, and Schumer were all rebuffed, while the Chinese “welcome more Newsoms to come.”
So, no one else among the Democrats was seemingly able to pull off a deal whose hazy outlines already resemble at least Nixon-Mao if not Molotov-Ribbentrop. Because after all the recent water under the bridge, a Newsom-led Democrat/Communist rapprochement would be an epochal shift. It’d be a ruthlessly pragmatic move in which a younger Democrat finally acknowledges that their party is no longer a total overdog capable of waging simultaneous wars against tech, Trump, Russia, and China — and must make peace with at least one rival tribe.
A Separate Peace With China
Here’s the thing: after losing in Afghanistan and now Ukraine, losing control of Twitter and now Treasuries, and losing support in first the Middle East and then the middle of their party, Democrats are besieged on all sides. Moreover, an election year is coming up — and while they are prosecuting Trump and persecuting Elon, it really isn’t great optics to jail all the Republican candidates as insurrectionists.
So, the Democrats need to make peace with some rival tribe to retain power. Would that mean reaching out to their domestic Republican rivals, their “fellow Americans”? Hell no! Democrats won’t hire Republicans and 95% of Democrats won’t marry them either. So they certainly won’t ally with Republicans in any except the most cynical of ways — to get them to pay the bills and die for empire.
After all, in 2023, the entire point of being a Democrat is the holy war against the Republicans — the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobes responsible for every form of oppression, the straight white males (and white-adjacents) who need to be politically dispossessed to defend democracy. This has been the constant message from media and academia for decades now, and the result is BLM/Hamas.
Smarter Republicans do understand how much Democrat hatred is directed at them in the name of stopping hate, but the dumber ones think Democrats are somehow “with them” against China, that politics stops at the water’s edge, and that war with China would somehow unify America — even though neither the war in Iraq nor the war on COVID accomplished anything but division, and even though every social graph shows that it’s not one country but two parties.
The particularly dumb Republicans see the “bipartisan” votes on China and think they’ve finally shamed the Democrats into seeing the light and acting as fellow Americans, perhaps by telling LeBron repeatedly that Uighur Lives Matter. In reality, what Democrats actually want is to be part of the most powerful state in the world. From 1978 to 2019, that was obviously the USA. But after they won their tussle with Trump for the Presidency, Democrats started to get threatened by China…which is why they’ve been unsuccessfully fighting them for the last four years.
So, yes, as of right this minute Democrats are willing to use Republican votes against China. But like Ted Kennedy or FDR before him, an ambitious Democrat like Gavin Newsom may believe that a Democrat/Communist detente might just generate more power than a Democrat/Republican confrontation.
After all, US manufacturing and the US military ain’t what it used to be. China is #1 in steel, #1 in trade, #1 in high speed rail, and #1 in shipbuilding. Meanwhile, the US is struggling to produce enough weapons for just Ukraine and Israel, let alone a war with China. And it estimates that it’d lose more troops in one week fighting China than in one decade in the war on terror.
By contrast, a Democrat/Communist pact may mean China resumes buying Treasuries, ships goods to lower inflation, filters Democrat-designated “misinformation” on TikTok, and intercedes with Iran and Russia — all of which could produce domestic and foreign policy gains that help keep Democrats in power. It’d be a Chinese bailout6 of American Democrats, when their numbers otherwise look extremely grim.
And that’s why Newsom may be willing to negotiate a separate peace7 with Xi between Democrats and Communists, leaving Republicans out in the cold. Again, this is barely an inference at this point; China “welcome[s] more Newsoms to come” and Newsom wants to be“China's long-term, stable and strong partner”. Newsom says “divorce is not an option”, and we haven’t seen Xi smile like that in a long time.
But how could Democrats and Communists ever collaborate?
The Farthest Left and the Furthest Right
One might argue a Democrat/Communist pact doesn’t make any ideological sense. As detailed in this chapter on The Global Flippening, American Democrats are the farthest left party in the world on the cultural axis, while the Chinese Communists are the farthest right. We’re talking about ultra-wokes flying the progress flag on the White House and Han nationalists purging “sissy men” from public life. How could they possibly get along?
But if you remember 1972, Nixon’s Republicans were on the right and Mao’s ChiComs were on the left. And if you go back to 1939, Hitler’s Nazis were on the far right while Stalin’s Soviets were on the far left.
These pairs of regimes didn’t like each other, but their deals focused on mutual enemies. The secret part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact allowed the Soviets and Nazis to carve up Poland between themselves in 1939, while the secret terms of the Shanghai Communique allowed the Americans and Chinese to table Taiwan and (de facto) team up on the Soviets after 1972.
While one of those deals did blow up within years as the Nazis and Soviets began fighting each other, the other one lasted for decades as the Chinese and Americans continued trading with each other.
Moreover, the secret part of Molotov-Ribbentrop where they agree to divide up Eastern Europe wasn’t fully revealed till after the collapse of the USSR in 1992. The secret part of the Shanghai Communique where Nixon agreed to concede on Taiwan wasn’t revealed till 2003.
So we might not know all the details of what Newsom and Xi are discussing for a while. But we can make an educated guess by asking a related question, which is: what are the shared interests and mutual enemies of both Chinese Communists and American Democrats?
A Shared Interest in the Most Powerful State
The shared interest part is easy: Democrats and Communists both love the state, and the Democrat base is more friendly to China than the Republican base. So a new G2 under Newsom/Xi has enough Democrat support from both elites and base to reshape the “international community.”
Democrats love the state
If Republicans want to be part of the most powerful nation, Democrats want to be part of the most powerful state.
That is: Democrats are wired differently from Republicans. While Republicans want to be part of a tight-knit community that organically scales from baseball and hot dogs to aircraft carriers and world domination, Democrats are fine with simply becoming senior administrators of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and even multi-national global empire.
For example, Republicans complain that the US is focusing more on the Russo-Ukrainian border than the Texas-Mexico border. But that’s because Republicans naively think of the US as a country populated by people with shared culture. Democrats by contrast think of the US as an empire, governed by enlightened bureaucrats, and recognize that the actual border of democracy is indeed in Ukraine. For a Democrat, the internal migration from Mexico to Texas is of no more moral concern than the internal migration from New Mexico to Texas. All of these are just provinces of the American Empire. And if you expand the borders of the empire, sure, you may dilute the founding nation, which would anger Republicans — but you expand the reach of the state, which would favor Democrats.
So, while Republicans would find the idea alien, it’s not that big a deal for Democrats to work out a power-sharing deal with Communists to manage a global empire. Again, that’s been part of the playbook since FDR and Ted Kennedy.
Young Democrats less negative on China
Also, if the Republican base leans Russia, the Democrat base likes China more.
Some Republicans have a soft spot for Russia, which they see as surviving communism to rebuild the Russian Orthodox Church. Democrats by contrast hate Russians, because (a) they’re mostly white Orthodox Christians, (b) they blame them for Russiagate, and (c) the Russians refuse to submit to the American state.
These sympathies are reversed when it comes to China.8 Republicans now see the Chinese as the most threatening outgroup; while not acknowledged, China is what unenlightened generations would have called the “Yellow Peril.” But the TikTok Democrat has much more sympathy for China. After all, the CCP is non-white, non-Western, and calls themselves communists…so can they really be that bad? Or so the logic goes.
So, while the Republican base would hate the idea, it’s also not that big a deal for the Democrat base to go along with Democrat elites on China detente. Basically: young Dems like TikTok, don’t want to fight a war, and think that because China calls themselves “communist” that the CCP is on the left. Woke for Chinese nationalism is like LGBTQ for Hamas, an easily papered-over paradox.
A Mutual Enemy in Decentralized Networks and Independent Nations
We’ve spoken of shared interests. But who’d be the mutual enemies of any Democrat/Communist detente?
Chinese liberals. The CCP doesn’t like Chinese liberals. They’ll want American Democrats to stop funding perceived color revolutions like Hong Kong, and to give them a free hand in their sphere of influence like the US has historically given other regimes. The US is already looking the other way on activists like Joshua Wong, so this could plausibly happen.
American conservatives. US Democrats don’t like American conservatives. They’ll probably want Chinese Communists to give them more control over TikTok, to ship them goods to reduce inflation, and to buy Treasuries to maybe kick the can for a bit longer, all of which could boost them against Republicans. Personally, I’m skeptical as to whether even a Democrat/Communist pact to keep buying Treasuries could forestall the level of economic reckoning to come…but maybe we see both a crash and a pact, wherein a relatively functional Communist regime ships hard goods to help Democrats maintain domestic power. It may not be too different from how the Chinese support dysfunctional regimes in Africa.
The Internet. Both Democrats and Communists hate an uncensored, uncontrolled internet. They want to regulate AI, regulate crypto, regulate everything. And neither of them likes their troublesome domestic tech CEOs, whether Jack Ma or Elon Musk.
Other groups would have more mixed outcomes.
Europe. They’re both neutral/positive towards Western Europe, which has basically taken itself off the map anyway by deindustrializing itself in the fight against Russia.
India. On India, while Democrats have been making noises of support and the Chinese have recently been polite, they could both flip on a dime to neutral/negative from neutral/positive if Democrats and Communists align with each other. However, there’s too much economic growth in India to flip to fully negative.
Finally, Democrats and Communists would need to settle conflict zones.
Taiwan. There might be some kind of grudging trade on Taiwan, where the US and China agree on the status quo. If China achieves a cultural victory in Taiwan, by getting the less-US-aligned parties to win, maybe they also agree to keep shipping chips. This may be how the world averts war.
Ukraine. We’re already seeing the US backing off on Ukraine; perhaps they’ll ask China to restrain Russia from doing anything else.
Israel. Neither of them is particularly fond of the Israelis. On Israel, the Democrat base is fighting Biden, while the Chinese are leaning towards Palestine. But one major ask might be for the Chinese to get Iran to back off from supporting Hamas and attacking US forces, perhaps in the shared interests of maintaining a reliable flow of oil.
I recognize of course that all of this is speculative. You’re not supposed to think about this kind of thing until it’s officially announced. Even with Chinese state media “welcoming more Newsoms to come”, even with Newsom announcing that he wants to be “China's long-term, stable and strong partner”, we are not yet in that future where more Newsoms have come and Newsom is China’s long-term, stable, and strong partner.
But we could be.
Was Newsom the key factor in getting Xi to come out to his home city in his home state? Well, Xi’s APEC attendance wasn’t confirmed before Newsom’s trip, and Xi had skipped a recent summit in India, and the last four US official visits by Blinken, Yellen, Raimondo, and Schumer had yielded nothing. So it’s a reasonable inference to say that Newsom got Xi to come.
It’s a lot like when Beijing stopped pollution for a few days during the Olympics, but even more consequential because it shows that the descent of blue America is driven by Democrats and can be reversed by them.
Today that is ostensibly to “compete with” China, but the more important point is that it’s copying China. There’s a huge difference between the Internet values of free speech and free markets, and the Chimerican values of internet censorship and “industrial policy” (namely, government graft without the bottom-line LP accountability of venture capital).
Yes, there’s also the issue of TSMC, so it’s not purely mimetic, but the similar example of Ukraine shows that it’s primarily mimetic. That is, the US didn’t use to care about Ukraine, but then it cared about Ukraine because Russia cared about Ukraine and it dislikes Russia. Similarly, the US didn’t use to care about Taiwan, but it now cares about Taiwan because China cares about Taiwan and it dislikes China.
Remember, Newsom (like any great politician) is hyper-aware of power dynamics. He mocked DeSantis for debating him, because Newsom is “just” a governor and DeSantis is running for president. But of course he similarly knows that Xi likely wouldn’t care about meeting with just a governor, and some signal has been sent that he may be the next president.
Like Lend-Lease, but in reverse, where this time it’s Communists shipping hard goods to save Democrats.
What that means is that Democrats that were ostensibly allied with Republicans against Communists would instead just negotiate a separate peace with Xi to hold onto power. The formal definition: “A separate peace is a nation's agreement to cease military hostilities with another even though the former country had previously entered into a military alliance with other states that remain at war with the latter country.”
Of course, Russia and China are themselves allied!