China Quote-Mining For Fun and Geopolitical Profit

There is a a talk I give that is nominally about ladders on San Diego freeways. While the topic might seem loopy, and it sort of is, it is really about data debris, the kinds of information we throw off as a byproduct of our actions. It’s what we tell by what do, mostly by accident — and it often tells more about what we really think and plan than do our conscious disclosures.

Consider the following example (courtesy of RecordedFuture). What do we say, as countries, in response to disasters around the world? By how much do state officials’ mentions of the country increase after the event, and what relation, if any, does it have to our geopolitical interests?

The following chart shows that data from the U.S. In response to a series of recent crises around the world, official statements jump up in the days after the event. This isn’t particularly surprising, even if there are a number of plausible explanations, which I will return to towards the end of this post.


Now, let’s compare to China officials’ statements post-crisises elsewhere. When the crisis were outside Asia we see marked increases in official comments, but when the crises were in Asia (see Indonesia, Pakistan, and Taiwan, the number of officials’ statements declined. quotes-china.png

What does it all mean? You could read the U.S. response as simply showing that U.S. only notices other countries when something goes wrong, so all official comments go up in those events. Less cynically, it is fair to say that the U.S. is almost ways the first to respond to major events around the world, especially humanitarian ones. China, however, has less obvious interests, and is even arguably playing something more like realpolitik, with it less concerned about Asian troubles than with troubles in countries elsewhere, especially when it has some sort of resource-related strategic interest.

Intriguing stuff. [-]