China Bashing

China’s state-owned banks have become a main engine of the global recovery. … The surge in Chinese lending, triple the 2008 rate, has provided a lifeline to international corporations.  Post

Positive news, right?  But I hear shades of this famous scene:

POTTER:  Take during the depression, for instance. You and I were the only ones that kept our heads. You saved the Building and Loan, and I saved all the rest.

GEORGE: Yes. Well, most people say you stole all the rest.  It’s a Wonderful Life

I hear a lot of China bashing these days.  To check, I surveyed the last ten China new articles in the Post and NYT.  (Editorials bash even more.)  Post:

  1. Beijing’s $586 billion stimulus program has helped boost [its] growth.
  2. Hong Kong marchers press for democracy.
  3. accused … Obama of compromising Taiwan’s security to promote U.S. ties with China.
  4. China denounces U.S. trade ruling on steel pipes.
  5. U.N. Security Council, where China holds a veto and remains hesitant to act against [Iran].
  6. The U.S. … ruled … a surge of subsidized Chinese steel has harmed or threatens to harm the U.S. industry.
  7. Britain decries execution : China put U.K. citizen to death.
  8. China appears to be the biggest roadblock to robust U.N. [Iran] sanctions.
  9. The United States has seen the [Japan] moves as central to a new Asian security policy to assure Japan’s defense and to counter the rise of China.
  10. Burmese women being brought over for marriages with Chinese men — some forced.

NYT:

  1. Hong Kong Protesters Seek Democracy.
  2. Discovery of Melamine-Tainted Milk Shuts Shanghai Dairy.
  3. Index of China’s Manufacturing Rose Sharply in December.
  4. Telecom Company to Pay $3 Million in China Bribe Case.
  5. China: Xinjiang Enacts a Curb on Dissent.
  6. A pioneering editor who resigned amid [government censor] controversy last fall … named editor in chief of a new publication.
  7. China and 10 Southeast Asian nations ushered in the world’s third-largest free-trade area.
  8. Chinese Businesses Resist Eviction by Developers.
  9. U.S. Duties on Pipes From China Approved.
  10. China Executes Briton Despite Appeals.

Yup, top US newspapers are in full fledged China bashing mode.  Anyone think a list of the last ten articles about Britain or Canada would be nearly as negative?

The odd thing is that this media tries so hard to appear objective.  Yet they are blatant about the most obvious bias one should expect from national news: a bias toward negativity about rival nations.  Apparently we are most blind to our most obvious biases.

Added 8p: Many respond “Sure most nations are biased to want news about how their rivals are dangerously evil, but we aren’t biased because our rival really is dangerously evil.”  Gee, hadn’t thought of that; I take it all back …

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  • nine

    Or maybe Chinese policies objectively suck.

    • anon

      I agree with nine. (Yes, “suck” is a loaded word, but so is “bashing”.) Most of the headlines seem to be business as usual, really. But Robin could convince me otherwise by showing a few samples of headlines where the news were not in “full-fledged China-bashing mode”.

    • Millian

      I agree with this also.

    • Joe Unlie

      Read my posts below. BTW, objectively suck means objectively sucks for you. Why should China’s leadership give a damn about you, other than as a consumer of products?

  • Nominull

    Surely it would be easy enough to check, using the same methodology, whether a list of the last ten articles about Canada or Britain would be nearly as negative? You should actually collect data, rather than assuming that the data proves your point.

  • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

    Re: checking – if you doubt that particular point, you can check it too, you know.

    Let us be grateful for the posts we are blessed with, and not complain too much that they could be even better.

    • Millian

      That’s not the point. The point is that Robin is making an argument worded in a way that doesn’t require him to back it up, i.e. an innuendo. One user’s check does not equal intellectual integrity.

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  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    China’s environmental, political, human rights and economic records are far from good news stories. I agree with ‘nine’ that their policies do objectively suck.

    – China wouldn’t be the economic powerhouse it is today if it let its currency float.
    – Their trade practices are hardly free.
    – They routinely violate the human rights of Chinese citizens.
    – The environment in China is in exceedingly poor shape.
    – Environmental laws? What environmental laws?
    – Labour laws? What labour laws?

    So if you view it as some sort of xenophobic, bordering on racist, reporting, that’s your view. Canada and Britain are not at all like China in any way whatsoever.

    Perhaps you should take an objective look at China and assess their behaviour. If they operated at close to the same standards as more developed countries, they might get ‘bashed’ less.

    Oh, and FYI, negative news coverage does not necessarily equate to ‘bashing.’ I guess Al Qaeda and the Taliban should complain about being bashed in the media too?

    • anon

      China wouldn’t be the economic powerhouse it is today if it let its currency float.

      Why? How does China’s foreign exchange policy affect its advantage in low-cost labor and natural resources?

      • Psychohistorian

        Somewhat oversimplifying: by pegging its currency, China moves a lot of the value of its labor to other nations. It keeps labor costs low by essentially forcing laborers to accept low wages via currency valuation. Thus, its low cost of labor is significantly a result of its currency policy. It’s not exactly like boosting your economy using slave labor, but it’s not exactly unlike it either.

    • James K

      Its hardly fair to hold China’s trade policies against it, unless of course you are from New Zealand or Singapore or one of the very small number of other countries with substantially free trade.

      And their currency peg is what is leading them to lend so much money to the US. It also amounts to an output subsidy, which means they’re effectively giving away money to the rest of the world. Really we should be thanking them.

      Having said that, I think your other points are reasonable, though I still wonder if these bad policies get disproportionate attention when China is the country doing it.

    • Joe Unlie

      As I pointed out, though, they have strong reasons for those policies which “suck” from our point of view- they are necessary as part of building up their “security” and strength as a stable nation.

      “China wouldn’t be the economic powerhouse it is today if it let its currency float.”

      I talked to a currency trader at Bank of China just this afternoon; he said they should be strong enough to let it float by 2015. See above.

      “Their trade practices are hardly free.”

      Yesterday they enacted ACFTA; China and six ASEAN nations have now agreed to a free trade zone. The rest of ASEAN, as well as Taiwan, should be integrated into it by 2015; by 2020, it would unsurprising if South Korea, Japan, and Australia have joined in as well. They’re moving towards free trade quite rapidly.

      “They routinely violate the human rights of Chinese citizens.”

      Yup. And America routinely violates the human rights of citizens of dozens of other countries. Big deal. Again, the typical reason is part of building up security; some dissidents need to be suppressed. This is no different than our hunting of “terrorists”, “pirates”, and “drug lords”- i.e., those people who threaten our stability. We don’t give them rights either. We do what we will with them. We do that in the name of sustaining the stability of the “American Empire”- that is, our global security hegemon.

      As yourself this- would it have been any better/worse had all the civilian casualties of the War on Terror and the War on Iraq been US citizens killed by our own millitary? There’s some bias to think about…

      “The environment in China is in exceedingly poor shape.”

      How much of that environment have you actually seen? Aside from the smoggy cities and some particularly awful rivers in the center of the country, a few waste pits here and there… it’s much like any other developing country in an industrial boom. There are parts of China that are as pristine as the American national parks or the Canadian wilderness; there are polluted wastelands; and there’s a ton inbetween.

      “Environmental laws? What environmental laws?”

      Plenty, actually, but enforcement is mixed. A law that is tightly enforced in Shanghai may be ignored in rural Hunan province. The government is highly decentralized; this is part of China’s old libertarian tradition, “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” It’s hard to make any national policy truly meaningful outside the Beijing beltway, because all enforcement comes down to local officials who do everything their own way. Some people hate this… I like it (because it means that clever people can get away with a lot more!)…

      “Labour laws? What labour laws?”

      See Environmental Laws. There are plenty, but enforcement is spotty. Though if I had to choose between being a laborer in Shanghai and being a laborer in Dubai, I’d take Shanghai in a heartbeat.

      “If they operated at close to the same standards as more developed countries, they might get ‘bashed’ less.”

      That’s like telling insurgent militias that they should put on uniforms and fight with conventional warfare tactics. Why the hell would they do that?

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  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I’m sympathetic to your viewpoint, but the reporting on China seems muted if anything to me. For example, I think yellow journalism would probably sieze upon the proliferation of Chinese military bases throughout the world and their arms sales to rival and morally condemned nations. This reporting is available on the internet, but it isn’t featured in the American press.

    Does our press favor Britain and Canada over China? Probably. But is our press biased towards reporting bad news about China? It’s probably more complicated than that.

  • http://www.seinberg.net Seinberg

    So, sans sarcasm and without taking the easy way out by simply pointing to bias, what do you actually *think* about China? Are they or are they not an “evil” country? It’s easy to poke and prod about others’ biases without taking a stance of one’s own, and then when someone *takes* a stance to be sarcastic about it and point out more bias. “Overcoming Bias.”

  • John

    Added 8p: Many respond “Sure most nations are biased to want news about how their rivals are dangerously evil, but we aren’t biased because our rival really is dangerously evil.” Gee, hadn’t thought of that; I take it all back …

    Robin, you are doubtless correct that we are biased to want news about how evil China is. But the data you provide does nothing to advance this hypothesis. You assert your conclusion and, as evidence, point out that we have a negative view of a rival nation, even though that rival clearly has some positive effects as well.

    At the risk of violating the spirit of Godwin’s Law, let’s use these evidentiary standards to examine another bias:

    Hypothesis: we are biased to hate our country’s past enemies.
    Evidence: Stalin helped us defeat Hitler–a very, very good thing. Yet our view of Stalin today is overwhelmingly negative!
    Supporting evidence: Anyone think a collection of modern research on Churchill would be nearly as negative?
    Conclusion: we are biased to hate our country’s past enemies!
    QED.

  • http://www.takeonit.com Ben Albahari

    It’s what I suspected all along. The Communist Party of China is clearly bankrolling Overcoming Bias. That’s right my fellow libertarians: Hanson’s a Communist. OK, seriously…

    Being objective and appearing objective are separate skills. You can be objective while not appearing objective, and vice-versa. A good example: Robin Hanson vs. The Washington Post and New York Times.

    The laziest way to appear objective for a given audience is to align yourself with the mean view of that audience. In contrast, if you actually want to *be* objective, there’s a good chance your view will deviate from the mean position. This means that if you want to be objective yet still appear objective, you have to put a lot of work into justifying your position to your audience. The burden of proof – or perhaps more correctly – the burden of persuasion – is on you to demonstrate that your non-standard views are reasonable.

    The Post and the NYT have chosen the lazy route. Most Americans will be comfortable with China bashing. The Post and the NYT will appear objective to most people in their audience on that topic. Robin won’t appear objective, because his position on the topic of China is way out of his audience’s comfort zone. Americans are proud of their country and its ideals. It’s part of their identity. Many biases are a result of advancing and protecting one’s identity. The fact that China can succeed under a different model to democracy perhaps even elicits a Not Invented Here bias in Americans.

    Given the addendum to Robin’s post, it’s surprising that Robin’s suprised at his audience’s surpise. Maybe Robin has a little Transparency Bias and Projection Bias?

  • Matt

    Robin, I think the problem you are having here is that your readers are reading “Western media is somewhat biased against China” as “News media about China has no meaningful information content – all is bias and there is no way to extract information from this!” because that is the only way that this is a new and provocative idea. This is because if it were not a new and provacative idea they have no understanding why it is that you would post it as if it is. They have a bias towards the idea that Hanson says provocative and contrarian things and so have misread you.

    • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

      Something can be entirely biased and entirely true. Just give all the bad, but true, news and withhold all the good news.

  • Joe Unlie

    In part there tends to be an assumption that China does what it does because it’s leaders are EEEVIL and GREEEDY. Yet, those of us who’ve spent a lot of time investigating this country “on the ground” will tell you that it’s mainly due to a huge difference in psychology.

    The psychology of America is based in a tradition of victory and security. Never having lost a major war (no, Vietnam was not a major war), having had no significant civil disturbances on our soil in 145 years, and confidence in our power (however waning that may be) have generally placed us in a position of psychological security- we can believe ourselves benevolent, and act as such, because we have the strength to be so (as Nietzsche pointed out about the true nature of masters- the strong can afford to be gentle).

    China is coming from a position of deep insecurity. They had decades upon decades of horrible instability, anarchy, and mass murder (first at the hands of the warlords and the corrupt Guomindang, then at the hands of the Japanese, then at the hands of the Communists). They do not see themselves as a power. The actions their government takes are based on both a selfish and a benevolent principle-
    -seeing to their own power and security (selfish)
    -seeing to China’s benefit (benevolent)
    However, what may seem selfish is in fact a form of benevolence; I have yet to meet anyone who believes, based on years of experience in-country (whether they are a Chinese citizen or an expatriate), that China would be better off today if the government had collapsed in 1989. Again, they need to build up to a position of security before this can be a possibility. To that end, you may think that the policies that they’re executing may “objectively suck”, but I think they’re perfectly logical and justifiable based on where they are coming from.

    • t.c.

      I agree with you 100 %, Joe.

    • Robert W

      Joe, you have expressed my thoughts almost word for word in your posts. I feel like most people these days just “go with the flow” with the opinion of the masses without sitting down and thinking about the situation themselves.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Depends on what one considers “negative”. China denouncing U.S. imposts on steel pipe? Free traders would support China. Likewise the headline about the SE Asia free trade zone.

    China executes heroin dealer? Go China!

    Chinese small businesses fight state-sponsored developers? That’s a global issue: vide the KELO decision.

    Also this is a very small sample.

    To get a realistic index, one needs to pull in a large sample of stories, and see how many in general are “negative”, and examine the relative negativity of stories about various subjects: China, California, Democrats, Moslems, France, banks, Texas…

    It would further be necessary to examine the variation in samples. Are there frequent clusters of positive or negative stories?

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  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Scott Sumner is also a traitorous panda-hugger.

    John, I think that bias (theorized by Mencius Moldbug at a Will Wilkinson post I can’t find now) plays a large role. Stalin is hated, but Hitler is hated a lot more despite his lower bodycount. We only fought a Cold War against the Soviets, so they have lesser-villain status (the James Bond movies even deviated from the books by replacing SMERSH with SPECTRE so as not to offend the Russians). I remember an SNL skit from the 90s where it was assumed to be obvious that the Russians were in the wrong in Chechnya and the war was just over national pride. I bet since the initiation of the “Global War on Terror” our sympathies have shifted there.

    • John

      I agree that bias plays a large role in our judgements (otherwise I wouldn’t be reading this blog!). But I guess I just found this post kind of vacuous. It identified a bias that probably affects our views and threw out a single piece of incredibly unconvincing “evidence.” The only reason Hanson’s readers would accept his evidentiary standards here (news about China is bad, therefore news about rival nations is biased) is that they already have other bits of evidence that suggest that his conclusion is correct.

      Your comment, in fact, is a case in point. I argued that Hanson’s evidence here is poor; you responded by arguing that other evidence suggests that Hanson’s conclusion is correct. Exactly! Hanson used silly evidence, when better was available, to argue for a conclusion that is almost certainly true.

  • DS

    Guys
    I would be concerned if these negative tones vanished over night. Japan was bashed when it was strong not weak (pick historic analogies yourself). Envy is a powerful emotion that escapes no one. NYT and WP are no exception. Check out latest from Paul Krugman. The guy sounds so uncharacteristically dumb when discussing China. If an earthquake were to destroy China for good, the same people would be sympathetic, I imagine. Enjoy it while you can, Brits did a lot of it to the U.S. but they quit a while ago.

    DS

  • http://www.stevehynd.wordpress.com Steve

    There is a difference between China bashing (criticising China for no obvious reason, or at least disproportionally criticising) and pointing out the obvious. China executes between 2,000-10,000 people a year (depending on whom you believe because China still hides it figures from public scrutiny as a “state secret”.

    I have blogged about it here if you are interested: http://stevehynd.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/china-executing-well-anyone-really/

    • truth speaker

      “China executes between 2,000-10,000 people a year (depending on whom you believe because China still hides it figures from public scrutiny as a “state secret”.”

      and yet America killed millions in Iraq and Sudan by destroying medical facilities and infrastructure.

      America has killed more people in Iraq than China could in the last 30 years even if they executed 40,000 people a year.

      America has a higher prison population.

      Native Americans have a worse quality of life than Tibetan nomads.

      etc

      it would give more incentive for Chinese consumers to buy US products (if the Chinese government weren’t so protectionist).

      Too bad America has several embargoes in place targeting China preventing the transfer of technology, many natural resources and companies to China. America refuses to offer China anything China wants to buy- and as a result, counter-protectionism takes place.

      Frankly, the US government has every right to impose sanctions on the Chinese government because they don’t play by the same trade rules everyone else does. Any negative media coverage China receives is likely deserved.

      If the US has the right to sanction China, China has the right to toss billions of dollars down the drain and force America and override America-led international embargoes on technologies such as clean coal, which would save hundreds of thousands of lives in China and elsewhere.

      However, America’s corporate greed and brainwashed cronies will see to it that that doesn’t happen.

      Can anyone explain to me what good it is doing the US MSM to bash China?

      It distracts Americans from their failing schools, imploding infrastructure, disintegrating society, collapsing currency, porous border, swine flu epidemic, deteriorating financial position, shameful health care, overflowing prisons, street and gang crime, rampant drug use and prostitution, immense inequality in the distribution of wealth, and those two wars they’re losing horribly.

      If it’s not China it’s Michael Jackson, or Britney Spears, or Tiger Woods. These are corporations, they sell a product, and racist yellow peril journalism sells. Just like celebrity gossip. Americans gobble it up.

      • Hans

        Those “Americans” of which you speak sound like mighty stupid people, gobbling up celebrity gossip, racist journalism and whatnot spoonfed to them by their corporate overlords in order to forget their rampant drug use, prostitution epidemic, and the disintegration of their once-great society. And at the same time, they arrogantly deny their nobler oriental brethren even the weakest of technologies, collectively gloating and reveling in the agony of countless Chinese children, killed by dirty coal.

        Pray, truth speaker, tell us more of your marvelous insights into the american psyche, that we may better recognize the lies of the American media cabal and their underhanded dealings with corporations. Pull back the veil that has obscured our eyes for so long, so that we may finally recognize the ugly reality of the world that we live in!

      • http://www.stevehynd.wordpress.com Steve

        You cannot defend China’s actions through pointing out the negatives of others. I am fully aware of the terrible acts undertaken in the name of America (as well as most nations to varying degrees). This does not hide the fact that China JUDICIALLY executes thousands of people a year. There is no hiding from that!

        This is why I suggested there needs to be a balance met between not aimlessly “China Bashing” (which I know does exist) and yet standing up for some basic values. My worry is that China uses this concept of china bashing to divert attention from its truly horrendous HR record!

    • truth speaker

      Ah yes Hans, ridiculous propaganda against the Chinese should be taken as fact, while the truth about Americans must be ridiculed and dismissed as Communist propaganda.

      Corporate brainwashing 101. I wouldn’t call a genocidal, slave owning America of the past a “once great society” either, but otherwise you were pretty spot on.

  • josh

    I wouldn’t say they are biased against rival nations, but rather rival political factions. The MSM’s political faction is international, but does not include American conservative, or Chinese nationalists.

  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    Anon:

    The currency debate is a common one in Canada. Exporters love it when Canada’s dollar is low because our exports are relatively cheap to our main market (the US) when it is low. As our dollar moves up in value (currently close to par with the US) it costs exporters in actual sales and the effective value of those sales (exchange rate premium they receive when paid in US dollars).

    It’s beneficial to importers and those buying imported goods because those goods effectively become cheaper.

    Canada’s dollar has increased in value because our economy is stronger than that of the US and our debt is lower (proportionally). Also, we’re a net oil & energy exporter which, with more expensive oil, also puts upward pressure on our dollar versus the US (net energy importer).

    A floating currency balances economies too. If the Chinese currency were more valuable (I’ve heard estimates that it should be 40% higher, and probably more with the weak economy in the US) it would give more incentive for Chinese consumers to buy US products (if the Chinese government weren’t so protectionist).

    Frankly, the US government has every right to impose sanctions on the Chinese government because they don’t play by the same trade rules everyone else does. Any negative media coverage China receives is likely deserved.

  • ERIC

    Can anyone explain to me what good it is doing the US MSM to bash China? (Aside from having something to write about!) Is bashing them really going to change much, likely not? They are big boys and will do what they want. This is clear in their actions regarding the current trade war with the US. Perhaps the plan is to influence popular support for stupid US trade policy retaliations? I don’t know. Would you act differently though if you were in China’s position?

    Regarding China’s politics, is it foolish to not ask how their citizens feel, irrespective of how US citizens view things?

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  • AmericanRedneck

    I agree.

    Everything is wrong with China.

    In America, nothing is wrong.

    Our American society is perfect, in every way. If you deny that, you deserve to be on the electric chair in Texas.

    We have never caused any wars or genocide. We cherish human rights, especially black and native American rights in the past 200 years.

    For example, in Vietnam, it was China who started the war and pulled out. China was the one who released agent orange on civilians.

    China is the greatest evil in the world, next to Muslims and non-socialists.

  • AmericanRedneck

    Seriously though, everything America says is mainly hypocritical.

    Everything from human rights, to political policies. Don’t you think that they are starting to get annoyed by the ignorance and blatant criticisms?

    I seriously doubt everyone in China personally feels oppressed… Did you even personally survey? No… That’s typical American judgement. So America doesn’t have high unemployment rates and social/economic inequality?

    It’s unjustifiable to criticise a country based on stereotypes and assumptions. It’s also unjustifiable to be HYPOCRITICAL.
    Didn’t America also commit many wars, crimes, human rights violations, economic corruptions and genocide during the past 200 years?

    Is this pure racism or just political propaganda? The criticisms are not helping at all, just pissing them off.

  • http://www.globalresearch.ca fike2308

    - China wouldn’t be the economic powerhouse it is today if it let its currency float.
    – Their trade practices are hardly free.
    – They routinely violate the human rights of Chinese citizens.
    – The environment in China is in exceedingly poor shape.
    – Environmental laws? What environmental laws?
    – Labour laws? What labour laws?

    your alternative, the usa. where you have guys like george soros who will try to wreck your currency, and just the u.s. govt in general through the transfer of hot money. let the cia come int your country, kidnap whoever, they want, and take them into torture camps in eastern europe, egypt, or thailand. environment? yes, let u.s. mulitnational corporations come into your country, open up sweat shops, pollute YOUR country, and then blame YOU for the pollution. if you dont let them open up sweat shops, then theyll overthrow your government as seen in Indonesia. this is the western style democracy that we try so desprately to spread around the world. labour laws? you mean the labour laws that Jaime Roldós Aguilera Omar Torrijos tried to protect? they paid for it with their lives. unfortunately, u.s. foreign policy does not mix with labour laws, or human rights. check out confessions of an economic hitman if you really want to know how the u.s. gets down. again, if you want to talk about human rights then take a good hard look at what america does to uphold human rights. i guess these american cops who go around tazing people is a perfect example of american style human rights. if america was so concerned about human rights, why do they practice the death penalty? why are you 6 times more likely to end up in prison in usa than you are in china? why are there cops on every corner? why is it that 1 in every 3 black americans have been to jail? do black human rights not count? is america that racist that as long as whites dont get arrested then all is fine? for a country that is SO concerned about human rights, i find it strange that the first thing the americans do when visitors enter the country is to take their finger prints and scan their eyes. i dont know about you but that to me spells a fascist police state. i also love how americans frequently talk about “democracy” as if it actually exists in america. when america stops having wall street appoint their leaders then i might take their sham of an election seriously.

  • Robert

    China Bashing vs. US Bashing? In the old days, I posted a question to my Chinese and American friends, and here to all here, can we envision a time when US and China can be friends?
    Friends can fight and argue but they are still friends. They are NOT trying to kill each other just because they don’t like some ideas from others.
    My view is, there are good people, there are bad people, in any country. Try to learn different views and understand. If you keep on picking on your personal friend, how would he think? Or how would you think if you are on the receiving end? Travel and befriend peoples from other nations and races. It may change our perspectives.
    America is a great country, because of its openness and courage to correct itself.

    • Emily

      “Friends can fight and argue but they are still friends.” Mortal enemies can shake hands and have civilized meetings but they’re still mortal enemies. I think you have it backwards.

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