Gangs of Tehran: how Iran takes out its enemies abroad

‘It was Friday afternoon, around 2.45. I came out of the house and was going towards the car on the driver’s side,’ Pouria Zeraati says casually. Zeraati – a presenter at the London-based TV station, Iran International – is recounting what was probably an Iranian state-sponsored attack. ‘I was approached by a man who pretended to be someone asking for £3. The second man then approached. They held me strong, very firmly, and the first person stabbed me in my leg.’ The Iranian regime is reshaping the murder-for-hire market in the US and parts of Europe Zeraati is talking on his first day back at work since he was knifed

Cindy Yu

Be more tiger mum!

‘What’s it to do with me if your boyfriend wants to break up with you? Or if you cried, or had a fight, these are not things that I as a supervisor care about. I’m not your mother. All I care about is results. Our relationship is just employee-employer.’ In a series of videos posted on Douyin (China’s version of TikTok), Chinese tech executive Qu Jing was a little too candid about her management style. Sharply dressed and with hair cut formidably short, she said she expected her staff to be on call 24 hours a day, including at weekends, even at the cost of their personal relationships. If Qu

Fools rush in: Mania, by Lionel Shriver, reviewed

Pearson Converse teaches literature at Verlaine University, Pennsylvania. She exists in an alternative universe to our own in which the Mental Parity Movement holds sway.  There is intellectual levelling, and no ‘cognitive discrimination’. This is high satire, exaggerated, crude, inviting ridicule of the social system portrayed, close to the great satirists of the 18th century in tone if not in style.   Yet Lionel Shriver’s Mania is more than just a satire. It is a study of Pearson’s family life and her ‘unbalanced’ relationship with her best friend from childhood, Emory. Pearson has three children: an intellectually gifted girl and boy by a high-IQ sperm donor, and an averagely intelligent

China’s vendetta against Nato

46 min listen

Last week, President Xi Jinping visited Serbia. An unexpected destination, you might think, but in fact the links between Beijing and Belgrade go back decades. One event, in particular, has linked the two countries – and became a seminal moment in how the Chinese remember their history. In 1999, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed by US-led Nato forces. Three Chinese nationals died. An accident, the Americans insisted, but few Chinese believed it then, and few do today. The event is still remembered in China, but now, little talked about in the West. Xi’s visit was timed to the 25th anniversary of the bombing itself. ‘The China-Serbia friendship, forged

What Xi wants in Europe

On a quiet street in Belgrade, a bronze statue of Confucius stands in front of a perforated white block, the new Chinese Cultural Centre. This is on the former site of the Chinese embassy which in 1999 was bombed by US-led Nato forces during the Kosovo war. Three Chinese nationals were killed. The Americans said the bombing was an accident, but the deaths allowed China and Serbia to share a common anti-Nato grievance. This week, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the bombing, Xi Jinping visited Belgrade and talked about the Sino-Serbian ‘bond forged with the blood of our compatriots’. He had been expected to visit the embassy

The traditional British hedge is fast vanishing

Five years ago, a documentary about the Duchy of Cornwall featured the then Prince of Wales in tweeds and jaunty red gauntlets laying a hawthorn hedge. It was a brilliant piece of PR. If Charles was a safe pair of hands with a hedge – something as quintessentially English as a hay meadow or a millpond – he was surely a safe pair of hands full stop. A cuckoo in one breeding season needs to eat about 22,500 hairy caterpillars Focusing on a hedge in south-west Wiltshire, Hedgelands combines history, celebration, lament and warning. Christopher Hart is a companionable writer, and makes a powerful case that, at a time of

Are all great civilisations doomed?

To quote Private Frazer in Dad’s Army, ‘We’re doomed, doomed!’ That seems to be the message of Paul Cooper’s eminently readable series of essays about how and why 14 civilisations rose to greatness and then collapsed. He begins with the Sumerians in the fourth millennium BC, at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf, and he finishes with Easter Island in the 18th century. He then concludes with dark prophecies about how a few centuries from now an overheated planet will look in a simpler post-industrial age. The style is informal, based on a series of popular podcasts, and one can almost hear the spoken word as one reads. Yet

How China is quietly cutting out American tech

32 min listen

Last week, President Joe Biden finally signed into law a bill that would take TikTok off app stores in the US, eventually rendering the app obsolete there. This is not the end of the saga, as TikTok has vowed to take legal action. In the US, the drive to decouple from Chinese tech continues to rumble on. In this episode, we’ll be taking a look at the reverse trend – the Chinese decoupling from American tech. It’s a story that tends to go under the radar in light of bans and divestments from the US, but you might be surprised at how much China is cutting out American tech too

Why was Blinken’s China visit so underwhelming?

It had been billed as an electrifying encounter – the US Secretary of State preparing to confront Beijing with a catalogue of global misdemeanours, ranging from stepped up support for Russian aggression against Ukraine to the intimidation of ships in the South China Sea belonging to US treaty ally, the Philippines, and the systematic breaking of world trade rules by flooding the market with heavily subsidised electric vehicles (EVs) and other renewable tech. ‘Russia would struggle to sustain its assault on Ukraine without China’s support,’ Antony Blinken said on Friday, at the end of a three-day trip that included meetings with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and with President Xi

The Xi files: how China spies

38 min listen

This week: The Xi files: China’s global spy network. A Tory parliamentary aide and an academic were arrested this week for allegedly passing ‘prejudicial information’ to China. In his cover piece Nigel Inkster, MI6’s former director of operations and intelligence, explains the nature of this global spy network: hacking, bribery, manhunts for targets and more. To discuss, Ian Williams, author of Fire of the Dragon – China’s New Cold War, and historian and Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins joined the podcast.. (02:05) Next: Lara and Gus take us through some of their favourite pieces in the magazine, including Douglas Murray’s column and Gus’s interview with the philosopher Daniel Dennett.  Then: Tim Shipman writes for The Spectator about

The Xi files: how China spies

Most states spy. In principle there’s nothing to stop them. But China’s demand for intelligence on the rest of the world goes far beyond anything western intelligence agencies would typically gather. It encompasses masses of commercial data and intellectual property and has been described by Keith Alexander, a former head of America’s National Security Agency, as ‘the greatest transfer of wealth in history’. As well as collecting data from government websites, parliamentarians, universities, thinktanks and human rights organisations, China also targets diaspora groups and individuals. Chinese cyber intrusions have targeted British MPs and stolen population-level data from the UK Electoral Commission database. In the US, meanwhile, Congress has just cracked

After TikTok, there’s another app we should ban

The American House of Representatives has passed a bill ordering Bytedance, a Chinese company, to divest from TikTok or stop operating in the USA. Their involvement in the app risks national security, the critics say. But what about other apps owned by Chinese companies? Should they be banned too? The most insidious part about Gauth? Look at the reviews. Apparently it gets the homework wrong. Gauth, or Gauthmath as it is known in the UK and elsewhere in the world, is a tutoring app designed to help children complete their homework in maths and science. It’s currently the #2 educational app in the Apple app store, and is targeted at

Was Marco Polo a ‘sexpat’?

25 min listen

When I recently came across a book review asking the question ‘was Marco Polo a “sexpat”?’, I knew I had to get its author on to, well, discuss this important question some more. The 13th century Venetian merchant Marco Polo’s account of China was one of the earliest and most popular travelogues written on the country. Polo spent years at the court of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis, and whose family founded the Yuan dynasty in China. My guest today, and the author of that book review, is the historian Jeremiah Jenne. Jeremiah has lived in China for over two decades, and he is also the co-host of the fascinating podcast Barbarians

Is the Quad finished?

Since the late 1990s, Australian governments have been considering how to make their neighbourhood, the Indo-Pacific, a stable and peaceful region. Australia has articulated the need for a balance of power, between a rising China on the one hand and the liberal democracies of the region on the other.  Australia has been particularly concerned about the risk of the Indo-Pacific being dominated by China – it could impose a kind of Asian Monroe doctrine on the region. In this environment, China would not only be able to subjugate Hong Kong, assert its sovereignty over the whole of the South China Sea, and incorporate Taiwan into the People’s Republic of China.

What Chinese hackers want

27 min listen

Over the last week the UK has been rocked by allegations that China was responsible for two cyber attacks in recent years – one on the Electoral Commission, where hackers successfully accessed the open register, which has the details of 40 million voters; and a set of attempts to access the emails of a number of China critics within parliament. So what do we know about China’s cyber capabilities? What are its goals? And now that the UK knows about these attacks, what should we be doing? Joining me on the podcast today is Nigel Inkster, senior advisor for cyber security and China at the think tank IISS, formerly director

Portrait of the Week: Kate’s chemotherapy, Waspi pensions and Moscow’s terror attack

Home Oliver Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, told parliament that China was behind a cyber attack on the Electoral Commission in August 2021, getting access to 40 million voters’ details. Three MPs, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Stewart McDonald and Tim Loughton, said they had been hacked and harassed by China. The government sanctioned two individuals and a company. A Chinese battery manufacturer, EVE Energy, had been in talks about building a gigafactory near Coventry airport. Scott Benton MP, from whom the Conservative whip had been withdrawn, successfully applied to be Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead in place of Chris Pincher, thereby provoking a by-election in Blackpool South.

Life on the margins pt II: Li Ziqi and the phenomenon of the rural influencer

23 min listen

In the last episode, I discussed Chinese rural lives with Professor Scott Rozelle. One point he made which particularly stuck with me was the dying out of farming as an occuption – he’d said that most rural people under the age of 35 have never farmed a day in their lives. So that got me thinking, what do they do instead? In this episode I’ll be looking at one, very high profile, alternative – vlogging. I’ve noticed through my hours of scrolling through Chinese social media that there is a huge genre of rural, pastoral content.  This is an interesting phenomenon both for what it says about the rural population

Life on the margins: how China’s rural deprivation curbs its success

41 min listen

Too often our stories about China are dictated by the urban experience, probably because journalists inside and outside of China are often based in the big cities; Beijing specifically. Those who live in the cities also tend to be more educated, more privileged, and so able to dominate the global attention more.  That’s why I’m particularly keen to hear about the lives of those who still live in the countryside, or at least are still considered ‘rural residents’ by the Chinese government. They make up a sizeable proportion of the population, and you’ll hear that in my first question to my guest today, we discuss just how big this group

What the Messi row reveals about Chinese football

40 min listen

The Argentinian football star Lionel Messi has been trending on Weibo – and unfortunately, not for a good reason. It all started when Messi sat out a match in Hong Kong earlier this month. His reason – that he was injured – wasn’t good enough for some fans, and keyboard nationalists quickly took offence when Messi played in Japan, a few days later. The furore has dominated Chinese social media over the last few weeks, and even led to the cancellation of some upcoming Chinese matches with the Argentinian national team, as authorities demanded an apology from Messi. What a mess. But beyond its seeming triviality, this episode tells us

China is set for a serious economic fall

 The future trajectory of the Chinese economy is a subject for doctoral theses rather than casual column items. But the advent of the Year of the Dragon, at last weekend’s Lunar New Year, was greeted with such pessimistic commentaries that the natural contrarian should ask whether the consensualists are getting it wrong: maybe the dragon is merely marking a pause before martialling its mighty resources for the next transglobal burst of fire? The negative narrative goes like this. In spite of deflation in consumer prices, Chinese shoppers are frightened of spending. Despite central bank interventions aimed at boosting asset prices, the property market is crashing after the collapse of the