Substack marked its four years of existence this Friday (15th) with a conversation between co-founder Hamish McKenzie and “Substacker number 1”. Bill Bishop, who had just moved to Washington after a decade in Beijing, launched the paid version of the Sinocism newsletter that day in 2017 on the new platform.
“It just seemed to me that it was a time when the internet and consumers were ready for this model,” he said in the podcast.
Gradually, Substack has established itself as a safe haven for names like Andrew Sullivan or Glenn Greenwald, fleeing the increasingly partisan vehicles in the post-Trump American media. And Bishop, at the same time, differentiated himself from the increasingly jingoistic news in the United States, against China.
Sinocism is even more critical of Xi Jinping than its Washington counterparts, but it avoids the lobbying they reproduce, called think tanks, and carefully portrays the signals coming out of the Chinese media — state, party or private.
This week, Bishop went a step further and questioned American coverage itself. “I get frustrated with the arguments [em Washington] that Xi and the words about institutional superiority [em Pequim] they are somewhat ‘defensive’ in response to the US,” he wrote Thursday.
“I believe they ignore China’s ability and, more importantly, they overlook the growing confidence that the system is superior to liberal democracy and that there is a real opportunity to delegitimize it globally.”
It was a warning, coming from the journalist who, according to the New Yorker, had reached such influence as to guide the White House’s agenda on China.
“Each day of political dysfunction and paralysis in the US only strengthens that confidence,” he added, then describing a 16-minute coverage in the CCTV newspaper (pictured above) that night: “You see clear criticism, if not open derision, of the political system. American”.
It was a report on a conference with the entire Chinese summit, in which Xi pointed out the country’s “institutional advantages” as essential to his “strategic initiative” in the world. Without citing the US, he made fun of his system:
“If people are only awakened to vote, but go into dormancy soon after; if they receive music and dance during the campaign but have no voice after the election, it is not a true democracy.”
Bishop is not alone, on the alarm. Before him, the New York Times already highlighted the risk of the Summit of Democracies that the American president announced for December.
“Heal Yourself First,” advised a newspaper headline earlier this year about Joe Biden’s date. It pointed to the “feeling of a dysfunctional system, if not totally broken”, which would have “no reason to lecture other countries”.
Two weeks ago, the NYT came back in charge, questioning the continuation of the foreign policy that came from Trump, with “friendly autocrats,” as Biden plans his Summit of Democracies and tries to salvage a role in the UN Human Rights Council.
Closing this week, the US secretary of state, equivalent to foreign minister, publicized on social media his meetings with colleagues from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two friendly autocracies.
In the interval of a few hours, between one photo and another with governments accused of war crimes and murder, Secretary Antony Blinken shared confirmation of the return to the Human Rights Council, where “the United States will fight to advance an agenda focused on Principles”.
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