It’s more or less the 30th anniversary of our leaving Washington, D.C. where we did international work for U.S. Representative John Miller. When we left we traveled overseas, including to Greece where we celebrated Christmas with our friend and as it turned out future wife’s family. We backpacked around Turkey and rode a bicycle around the Sea of Galilee in Israel among many other adventures. When we returned to America we holed up in Bridgeport, West Virginia, researching the killing of our great-grandfather by the town doctor, a long and remarkable story we might tell sometime.
And then we drove across this remarkable land with a friend, taking our time, wandering through the south waywardly on our way back to Seattle. We made our first trip to New Orleans though we’d traveled there many times before through the music of Louis Armstrong. We were enchanted and continue to be so today. We ate delicious barbecue in Memphis, saw Deliverance-like people on the porches of rural Mississippi, visited the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, took in the extraordinary views of the aptly named Grand Canyon and toured the rugged splendor of Big Bend National Park, among many other sights. My friend and I were surely the only people to not drink a lick of alcohol in Las Vegas but the next night get drunk in Salt Lake City. We saw America in, if not all its diversity, then got a gander at a large swathe of its complex tapestry.
So we continue to take pride and pleasure in voting as we did earlier this week and in watching the results: the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe it’s time for another journey across this land, though to really understand America, we would again first travel around the world. And we try to understand the hullabaloo over Twitter, examine where the largest companies are, and spy on China’s espionage in Canada, It’s this week’s International Need to Know, striving to be the Marvin Gaye of international information and data.
Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.
We see huffing and puffing, panic in the streets, confusion and angst over Elon Musk buying Twitter. Musk has tweeted some reprehensible, demonstrably false assertions and his whole endeavor seems like a crazy misallocation of capital to us but it is always good to keep everything in context. Below is a list of of countries who are the largest users of Twitter, TikTok and Facebook. Note that TikTok has nearly twice as many American users as Twitter. Facebook has more than twice the number of users as Twitter. In India, Facebook has ten times the users that Twitter has. For Vietnam, TikTok and Facebook are important social media sites while Twitter doesn’t even register. For the fourth-most-populous country in the world—Indonesia—TikTok has five times more users and Facebook six times. I didn’t include Youtube’s numbers but they also are magnitudes larger than Twitter’s: for example, 467 million users in India, 245 million in America and 139 million in Indonesia. And presumably these folks are not all watching innocent, cute kitten videos. Twitter is a relatively small social media platform. For all the concern we see Twitterati expressing about blue check marks and Musk censoring people making fun of him, we see little concern that so much of his Tesla business is reliant on China. And even though TikTok is a far larger and more influential social media platform, we also see very little concern from the blue checkers that it is a Chinese company and that it has admitted it is beholden to China’s authoritarian government. This misallocation of attention by Twitteratti is perhaps the most damning condemnation of the platform…though strangely I learned some of this through Twitter. Go figure.
Where the Big Companies Roam
Who are the largest companies by market capitalization in the world? It’s one of the many areas we measure in our U.S. – China Index, all part of our keeping track of what we call the Competition of Competence between China and the U.S. Currently, and not much different than when we began tracking, there are 34 U.S. companies among the top 50 and four Chinese companies. But, of course, the list includes other countries’ companies as well. The UK and Switzerland each have two companies in the top 50. Saudi Arabia (oil!), France and India each have one company. So, too, does Taiwan. Yep, TSMC, the much talked about semiconductor company is number 18. Perhaps as interesting is the change in rank of companies. A year ago both Tencent and Alibaba, once Chinese tech titans, were in the top ten. Now Tencent is number 23 and Alibaba is hanging on by a multi-colored thread sold on Singles Day at number 48. The crackdown on consumer tech companies in China has been impactful. Of course, U.S. companies have changed too. Facebook/Meta, or what I refer to as Myspace, was number five a year ago. Today it’s 34th. Changes are afoot in our world if you look under the hood (Tesla is still in the top ten).
China Corner: China Invades Canada
Well, not militarily but apparently through espionage and interference in its elections. While everybody talks about Russia’s efforts to interfere in other countries’ elections, China does too. Canada’s Global News reported earlier this week that “China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of foreign interference, which includes funding a clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election…” According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), China funded candidates, inserted agents masquerading as staff in Parliament and worked to defeat candidates China felt were against them. CSIS specifically claims that “China’s Toronto consulate directed a large clandestine transfer of funds to a network of at least eleven federal election candidates and numerous Beijing operatives who worked as their campaign staffers.” The intelligence agency also asserts China “conducts more foreign interference than any other nation.” The CCP, which doesn’t allow free elections and always complains of other countries interfering in its internal matters, is busy manipulating other countries internal electoral matters.