Media-Driven 'Positivity'

Another day, another media-driven outrage in China. The government wants positivity, but the state media seems unable to deliver anything but anger and distrust.

This time, it's all about Messi. The famous footballer didn't feel up for the match in Hong Kong, and the 'people' of China are very, very upset. The Hong Kong government immediately reacted online, which might seem to be an odd thing for the government to be worrying about. Clearly they know what the real requirements of their jobs entail.

Lionel Messi is 36 years old and at the top of his game. He plays year-round in league play, international matches and friendlies. Like every player, he has injuries from time to time. Indeed, Messi missed well over half of the league games his team in Miami played in 2023.

Unsurprisingly, state media picked up on this 'story', which is the story of a poor country being disrespected by an international star for political reasons, because it must be political reasons in order for state media to play their one and only card: national embarrassment.

Of course the online rage is approved and funneled by the omnipresent censorship system. I suppose the theory is that this type of anger is good to be funneled online, as a way of dispelling it from some other possible reactions, but who knows how the censorship system rationalizes itself.

So the ever-paranoid Global Times smells a political component to Messi's absence. The Global Times, an organization that will doubtless find 'enemies' at home and abroad as long as it remains (government) funded, decided that this must mean that Messi is...negative enough about China to sit out a match. Not negative enough to say anything substantial, despite his clout and platform.

Now, online rage is nothing new, and even a censorship system that filters out negativity and boosts nationalist rhetoric doesn't elevate simple online anger into anything more. However, finally we see that the complaint is first made political (not just disrespectful to the fans in Hong Kong, but an affront to Hong Kong as a city) and then taken even further, to the cancellation of future games that Argentina (featuring Lionel Messi) planned to play in China against Ivory Coast and Nigeria in March.

In other words, when Messi was in Hong Kong, he was expecting to go to China just about a month later, for two matches. He was planning to enter China a few weeks after he got attacked for hurting China. He was just in Beijing in a packed house in June 2023!

And now he is not allowed to go to China, until the political rage dissipates.

This is where, once again, politics trumps economics. No economic contract can stand in the face of political necessity. Think of the economic fallout from this. Promoters left holding the bag. Fans unhappy. Bookings cancelled. It doesn't even look like any of the national teams affected were able to fill in their schedule. Wasteful.

In Hong Kong, the promoter knows their role, and they know there is substantial danger for individuals in the company in how they respond. They are in the spotlight, and rather than being the happy organization that helps bring international footballers to Hong Kong, it is now the incorrect and outrageous organization that has allowed this historical slight to be delivered.

So, they bend over backwards, push the government safely out of the way (they had intended, post-event, to apply for government support), and promised refunds to the unhappy fans. They pretend that their contract with Inter guarantees that Messi will play, when it certainly does not. They are claiming that their own suggested refund scheme will effectively bankrupt them (if their media statements can be believed), and to those within this political moment, that appears to be just fine.

Think about the opposing teams, just left in limbo. The Nigeria and Ivory Coast national teams are left as afterthoughts. Their planned China trip was probably going to be profitable for them; now they have a huge gap in their schedule.

All of these outcomes are counterproductive, and they all stem from the silliest, most transparent of concocted nothingness. Because of the political need, driven through the media, to be upset and angry all the time. As a result, those affected will certainly consider China as an unreliable partner, and others will take note as well.

And so, China sows international distrust, due to the needs of domestic politics.

I remember when this all started, possibly the first time that political anger was truly allowed to affect economic reality. That was the political rage over Liu Xiao Bo.

China pretends that governments control all organizations like they do, and so they blamed Norway's government, along with every Norwegian company. International fish contracts were canceled, and yet those fish at that price point were still attractive to Chinese consumers. Politics tells us this business is unacceptable, but economics tells us the trade will continue.

So what happens? The reduction in fish supply to China leads to higher fish prices in China, naturally. There is now an excellent arbitrage opportunity. The big Norwegian traders are now banned from contracting directly for shipment to China, so others come into the picture. People with 'connections' or claims of connections. People who will buy the fish, send them to a 3rd country perhaps, and re-label them for sale to China. Legitimate traders suffer and the market is overrun with bozos, food safety issues double overnight, while Chinese consumers are unable to know the true source of their food.

How many countries have not been on the receiving end of this treatment? Watching the price of their commodities dip significantly, causing potential problems in your domestic industry, because your trade 'partner' is not a partner at all.