October-November 2010 | By Jane Leung Larson
Is China rich or poor? Will China keep rising or succumb to paranoia? Is China headed for a collision with the United States over world leadership? Why do Chinese people care so little about democracy? These were a few of the questions that four American journalists probed during their ten-day trip to China, the third such delegation of distinguished reporters, commentators, editors and columnists sponsored by the Committee of 100. Members Stewart Kwoh and Cheng Li assisted with identifying appropriate journalists for the delegation.
Led by C-100 Vice-Chair Kai-Fu Lee, funded with contributions by members Anla Cheng, Cyrus Tang, and Roger Wang, and coordinated by Public Relations Director An Ping, the delegation visited Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing from October 16 to 25. They spoke with think tank analysts, stand-up comics, students, entrepreneurs, Communist Party officials, and journalists about U.S.-China relations, the Chinese economy, environment and energy issues, Chinese foreign policy, culture, and the arts.
Lee, Wang and his wife Vivine, Shirley Young, and An Ping, with help from Cheng, Savio Tung, and John Chen, made the arrangements for the delegation’s meetings. The journalists had discussions with American studies expert Sun Zhe of Tsinghua University; Chinese entrepreneurs Victor Yuan (Horizon) and Alan Guo (lightlinthebox.com); NGO leaders Yang Peng (Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology) and Henry Wang (Center for China and Globalization); and Chinese journalist Yang Zheyu, Deputy Editor of Caixin [Economics and Finance] Magazine, among others. Former Hong Kong Chief Executive C.H. Tung hosted a lunch for the delegation, and Nan Zhenzhong, Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress hosted a dinner in the Great Hall of the People. Nearly twenty C-100 members met the delegation in Shanghai. The journalists also visited the Beijing 101 High School and Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center and talked to Chinese youth.
Along the way, delegation members published their observations in the Washington Post, Financial Times, and Newsweek, often mentioning the C-100 connection, and an article entitled “Will China Keep Rising or Succumb to its Paranoia?” by Washington Post Associate Editor and columnist David Ignatius was translated into Chinese by China’s digest of foreign news, Cankao Xiaoxi [Reference News]. The Tavis Smiley Show (PBS) of October 25 features Smiley’s interview with President Jimmy Carter Smiley’s interview with President Jimmy Carter, with much of the conversation focused on democracy and human rights, recognizing Carter’s deep experience with China from presiding over the normalization of Sino-American relations as President in 1979 and monitoring village-level elections through his Carter Center.
A few excerpts from articles by the three columnists follow. For links to all their coverage, visit the Committee of 100 Press Clippings page.
David Ignatius, “Will China Keep Rising or Succumb to its Paranoia?” Washington Post, October 25:
"Warmly welcome to Sino-Century," says an electronic display at the entrance to a private-equity fund here. That's the name of the firm, but it's also a good description of the rising China that could dominate the next 100 years as the United States did the previous century.
So an American visitor here inevitably wonders: What will this Sino-century be like, for China and the world? Can the country's opaque and autocratic political system cope with the economic forces it has unleashed, or is a time bomb ticking under the gaudy prosperity? And perhaps most worrying: Is this ascendant China heading toward a collision with an America that instinctively thinks of itself as the world's leading power?
After a weeklong visit here, I come away more perplexed by these questions than when I arrived. The new wealth of the coastal cities is stunning, and it justifies all the hype you've read. But China's political fragility is also evident; uncertainty about the future is clear among members of the elite who are investing abroad and obtaining foreign passports as hedges, at the same time they are harvesting fortunes in renminbi. . . .
The blessings of China's prosperity, and its limits, come through in a series of conversations arranged by the Committee of 100, a group of Chinese Americans that organized the tour I joined. A Jamaican American expatriate raves about the system's "utilitarian" virtues but concedes it is also "soulless." A Chinese analyst fears that a crisis of legitimacy will produce external war or domestic strife. A Chinese student bemoans China's "lack of confidence" and worries that "people now only believe in money." . . .
A week previewing life in the Sino-century left me with this thought: Paradoxically, perhaps, America has a big stake in China's success. And though Chinese leaders don't like hearing it, that means pushing them to achieve the genuine stability that can come only with a more democratic, less paranoid political system. The alternative is the anarchic crack-up that nobody talks about, but everybody fears.
Financial Times Associate Editor and columnist John Gapper, “China’s Business Elite is Free Enough,” October 20:
China was introduced to its likely next leader this week when Xi Jinping was named to a top military post at the Communist party’s annual plenum. No one knows much about him and few are bothered.
“Most Chinese students don’t care who succeeds Hu Jintao [as president]. They care more about who succeeds Michael Jackson as the king [of pop],” says Yin Wang, a masters student at Tsinghua university in Beijing whom I met on a tour of China. It coincided with Mr Xi’s emergence and a new five-year plan meant to tilt China towards the knowledge economy. . . .
. . . My tour of China’s elite this week, organized by the Committee of 100, an organisation of Chinese Americans that tries to bridge the gulf between the two nations, turned up little evidence of rebellion.
Instead, whether at Tsinghua University or Beijing Middle School 101 or talking to technology entrepreneurs, the impression I gained was that the emerging elite in China – its new business mandarins – are content enough to operate within the limits set by the government. Indeed, in return for a little self-censorship they get a deal that most people would envy.
Newsweek‘s Deputy Editor for business and economics, Rana Foroohar, wrote “China’s Wealth Worries: Why They’ll Cause Headaches for America” on November 1:
Is China rich, or is it poor? The question is at the heart of the deterioration in U.S.-China relations over the last few months. So many of the things that America is asking China to do--such as revalue its currency, improve human rights, help ensure the world's energy security and financial stability, and stop favoring its own state businesses--are predicated on the notion that China is now prosperous enough to play the role of a developed nation. Plenty of bankers agree; banks such as Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs now think of China as being several steps up from your average emerging market. . . . But just as there are two Americas, so there are two Chinas. . .
. . . While a burgeoning middle class along the coast lives comfortably on $10,000 a year or more, 36 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and incredible 150 million are living on $1 or less. As Nan Zhenzhong, vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), pointed out to me last week, “We are second only to India in terms of sheer numbers of poor people. In this sense, the only role we can play in international affairs is the role of a large developing nation.”
Thanks to An Ping for assistance with this article.