Trump Goes to China

President Trump is on tour in Asia this weekend: relieved maybe to be “getting out of Dodge” as his campaign team is getting indicted in D.C.  But it’s awkward, and unprecedented over there, too, that our president knows he’s meeting—as The Economist put it— “plausibly… the world’s most powerful leader” in China’s party chairman, Xi Jinping. 

The new power in China doesn’t come just from Chairman Xi. You can see the new order arranging itself around the other men now rushing to meet with the Chinese leader before Trump’s visit.

That’s two tiers of almost 40 technologists and billionaires – ours and theirs: Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Ma, Elon Musk, Google, Apple – toeing the line in a photo op with Xi Jinping.

Bill Kirby is the Harvard Business School’s eye on Chinese enterprise, old and new. In our conversation, Bill is pulling on the thread of his last book, Can China Lead??

Donald Trump and Xi Jin Ping meet in China, 45 years down a road that opened in front of our guest Chas Freeman. He was the foreign service officer at the start of his own brilliant career, translating the breakthrough meetings with Henry Kissinger, Chou En Lai, President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao, among others. He is giving us a tough-minded review of the needs and wants of the strongest Chinese leadership since Mao, running a “police state” at home and a vast “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure project “from Portugal to the Bering Straits.”

We’re also interested in cultural puzzles and contradictions in modern “Chimerica.”  The bilingual, and profoundly bi-cultural Kaiser Kuo, the Chinese rocker and host of the Sinica Podcast, gives us his take from his new homebase in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Ian Johnson, Pulitzer Prize winner for the Wall Street Journal, describes China’s spiritual crisis and revival over the the last decade in his book The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao. We continue our earlier discussion with Johnson on the evolving spiritual and moral values in modern China.

The education reformer in Beijing, Jiang Xueqin — Chinese to the bone, with a Yale undergraduate degree as well — is telling us of his own work in the gap between China’s prodigious achievements in math and science, and the unmet goals in ’emotional intelligence’ and humanities.

Guest List
Bill Kirby
professor of business and China studies at Harvard, co-author of Can China Lead?
Chas Freeman
Nixon's translator in China, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia for George H. W. Bush, and author of Interesting Times.
Kaiser Kuo
Chinese-American tech evangelist, former heavy-metal guitarist of Tang Dynasty, and host of the Sinica podcast.
Ian Johnson
Beijing-based reporter and author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao
Jiang Xueqin
Beijing-based educator who advises Chinese schools on how to teach creativity, and writes for a variety of Chinese and global media.

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  • I had to look up malignant narcissism. I then stumbled onto Duty To Warn:
    About half the people I’ve worked for fit the definition of malignant narcissism. Like Putin, there are a lot of characteristics that Xi Jinping will relate to, not least of which is one of the 48 Laws of power – be unpredictable.

  • A in Sharon

    I asked this on another forum and think it worth another try. Could someone please list just one great technological innovation that has come out of China recently? Incredible innovations are emerging from countries all around the world. The web is an American invention and I’m still waiting for some sign of an alternet. Maybe there is one and I just haven’t heard about it. Application platforms being used by billions of people world-wide emerge from Silicon Valley. Are Apple and Facebook there to improve mankind or do they just want their widgets accessible to Chinese consumers? New drug therapies and new medical advances are coming out of Boston and other great American cities. Great innovations are emerging out of Europe all the time. Germany is always advancing science and technology. I’ll grudgingly admit that CERN is ahead of NASA. Tempering my disappointment is knowing there are Americans helping greatly at CERN. South Korea and Japan do their part. Even tiny little Israel is talked about as an innovator more than China. I ask these questions not attempting to sell China short. They do a very good job making disposable goods on the cheap. Their cities are growing out and up at incredible rates. So far, they have done a good job growing their economy while avoiding political change. But, were is the imagination? Where is the desire to create something never seen before? Does greatness come from just having a lot of money and people? What happens in China when smart, innovative people want to create something new but it doesn’t fit within the government’s centralized plan? Why does it seem they are sending their best and brightest to live abroad? What happens in China when smart, innovative people want to create something new but it doesn’t fit within the government’s centralized plan? Prison?

    • When I was in middle school, say the middle 1960s, the phrase “Made in Japan” meant “So shoddy and junky it is an embarassment.” The Coyote in the RoadRunner cartoons would look at failing Acme products and discover that they failed because they were made in Japan. The Japanese got better, and the Chinese will as well, and are already doing it. For one very prosaic example, ten years ago Chinese saxophones and flutes were terrible. Now the best among them are passable or very good. The best four saxophone manufacturers are Yamaha, Yanigasawa, Selmer and Keilworth. Two are Japanese, one French and one German. I suspect that in another ten years there will be a Chinese manufacturer on the list. This is a trend over all products. The Chinese are just as smart and just as capable as we are, and we would do well to not underestimate them.

      • A in Sharon

        Thank you for replying. I’m afraid I regard your example as proving my case. I wanted to emphasize innovation, or maybe creation is the better word. It is not just making something of quality that has been around for decades. We already know they can take something from another culture and make it well for far less money. What is the new thing that amazes the world? Chris, et al seemed so impressed with a plan for excess concrete. Is that it? It must be noted the greatest technical innovation of the last 50 years is the world wide web. Born at CERN and nurtured by the US it has redefined our ideas about what is possible. It doesn’t just have to be science or technology. Speaking of music, has not the emergence of Rap from the streets of American cities spread so rapidly that Rap is now a form heard around the globe? What is it that will be born in China that will change my life?

        • You are not taking my point, and, I think, misunderstanding how innovation works. First, my main point was that the Japanese started badly, as one might expect from a country devastated by losing a war and being the target of the only nuclear weaponry to date. No one would have said in 1960 that the Japanese would be a manufacturing success. But in the 1980s American fear of Japanese industrial superiority was palpable. They got better. To say the Chinese will never be as good as the Americans at anything seems foolish and shortsighted. Second, innovation largely works by copying and adapting other things. To use your examples, the WWW’s HTML format was an adaptation of IBM’s SGML format for documents. HTTP is very similar to TELNET or the other early networking protocol formats. It all runs on TCP/IP, which predates the commercial internet. Also, rap music was an adaptation of Eddie Jefferson’s Vocalese style in the 1940s. That’s not to say that either is uncreative, but that they are not created from nothing. The Chinese start somewhere like anyone would.

          • A in Sharon

            Firstly, I never said they will never be as good as Americans at anything. I purposefully called out many other nations. You seem to concede that it is difficult to call out any recent innovations sourced from China. Your comment hints that it is coming in the future. We shall see. My point is that I fail to understand the inspiration for predicting Chinese domination as the world leader. It appears to be rooted in having a lot of money and a lot of people. I am skeptical for the primary reason a nation refusing to grant political liberty to their citizens will never dominate the world.

          • Potter

            A in Sharon: Seven Modern Chinese Wonders

            China’s Four Great Modern Inventions selected

            If they never invent another thing… it’s okay. An amazing list.
            List of Chinese Inventions

          • A in Sharon

            Thanks for responding and pointing out some helpful info. I wish to repeat I have no ill will towards China and, especially, the Chinese people. I simply question the assumption that China will emerge as THE world’s dominant power, in essence, replacing the United States. I’ve yet to hear a credible argument making the case. Proponents usually presume the USA will inevitably fall back and China is the only power that will fill the void. Again, the argument appears to equate their eventual largest GDP with world dominance, whatever that means. In my view, China seems very reluctant to project power beyond their immediate sphere of influence. In my view, a unified Europe, if it happens, has more potential to be the world’s leading power assuming a US decline.

          • Potter

            A. Sharon : We don’t know but it looks like China is headed that way and we are headed to retreat. China, because of it’s repression has suffered a brain drain I think though it was not mentioned on the show. As China gets more liberal and less repressive it might keep it’s more creative minds. As well, as was mentioned in the show, I was impressed to hear that Duke University is opening up a liberal arts college in China and that some Chinese universities are high quality. We don’t need THE dominant power. That comes naturally or not.

            Here are more current innovations on a slide show:
            Eight Examples of High Tech Innovation in China

          • A in Sharon

            Do you think they will get more liberal? Do you think they will give up single party rule? What will be the impetus for that? I see no signs they are moving in that direction.

          • Potter

            A in Sharon: Liberalizing can take different forms without threatening one party rule or revolution. Why should we care anyway about that? Are we going to stop manufacturing there, not buy the goods? If the people are okay with one party rule, it’s their business.

            The party might be pushed indirectly by events and the people to stay popular as well as has happened.

            You did not see any innovation either until it was pointed out as you start from a negative POV about China.The Chinese are very practical.

            We have our own entrenched leadership don’t we? tShouldn’t we be setting an example?

            That is not to say that Ai Wei Wei is not right in his criticism.

  • Potter

    We never managed how to be a worthy and willing sole superpower after the fall of the Soviets. So maybe a rival and China is it. The chaos and disappointing gangster non-rise rise of Russia is seemingly a second rate power wannabe trouble maker under Putin. I don’t appreciate Russian history so much as I should but I am so much more in awe of Chinese history, culture/religion philosophy going back thousands of years. They made the first stoneware and porcelain after all. They have the tradition more than “family values” It seems, wholistic, individual and existential as well as a communal/collective spirit.

    The beginning of this program, the recitation of human rights violations, made me think that perhaps China is now headed to become a mega repressive North Korea! But I don’t think the people will allow it. The masses perhaps will be too unruly to manage. Not that long ago some political wisdom-mongers here were certain that the opening of trade, the liberalization of the economic system, in China would have to in time bring about democracy. The party has held on. According to your great guests the people ( most?the young?) seem to be okay with the situation; seem to want this strong “backbone” and are willing to put up with an increasingly responsive leadership as they enjoy economic prosperity and it’s material changes. We have “evolved” to a business oriented power anyway, less interested in human rights at least when it comes to China. Trump is our poster boy.

    Practically everything else we need including clothes come from trade at the expense of jobs here and prices we love and the loss of jobs we are paying for instead.

    I have an impressive young Chinese American Harvard trained doctor thee days. He has a Muslim medical assistant. People of color in good jobs all around at least in the medical profession. This is the greatness of our country. But we should not forget we evolved from western civilization, a Europe not unconnected to the East, though isolated by our oceans. So here is another wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. Right, we are not in a good period to put it mildly, but one decades in the making. In the meantime, China finds itself connecting across the that great land mass and abroad as we bumble and retreat under Trump. As was said early on in this discussion, China has managed to go through it’s changes. In comparison, we are so young puffing up our importance. Hopefully we will weather our own painful mistakes.

    Thank you ROS..excellent and so interesting… Charles Freeman, Bill Kirby, Ian Johnson