China: The Politics of Business

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Chinese flag flies next to the Google company logo outside the Google China headquarters in Beijing on March 22, 2010. (LIU JIN/AFP/Getty)

James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, and author of China Airborne, talks about the idea that some Chinese businesspeople and intellectuals, including some with strong U.S. ties, support the authoritarian state.

    Brian Lehrer
    Near the Great Wall
    Brian Lehrer
    A Solar Panel Manufacturer in Hangzhou
    Brian Lehrer
    Brian at the Great Wall


    James Fallows

    Comments [25]

    Obviously business men prefer authoritarian regimes.

    Political debate (in Shanghai, Beijing and HK) is moving chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Intellectual distraction and play.

    "It's the Environment, Stupid."

    Measure China by the air, water and food available to the poorest peasant, not the richest ones.

    Dec. 06 2012 05:14 PM
    Phil from NY NY

    Eric Li is obviously not the right person to talk to if you really want to know what's going on in China because he is a member of the interest groups which make money from corrupted system including the financial system.

    Dec. 06 2012 12:08 PM
    Michael from Manhattan

    Most comments on China are clouded by commentators' own experiences and views, which is nothing to say we are all humans with our own bias.

    For example, James Fallows, the guest of today's show commented somewhere else that, he would view China has truly emerged if non-ethnic-Chinese artists, scientists, etc. start to move over there and build their lives and careers in China.

    This is a distinctly America-centric point of view.

    Most countries of the world will fail this test, at least those without a long and rich immigration history, which are about everybody except USA, Australia, maybe Canada.

    Dec. 06 2012 12:06 PM
    Mark Kalan from Valley Cottage

    Eric Lee is cut of the same Fascist/Oligarchy cloth that Mitt Romney and all the right wing nuts are.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:50 AM
    San KT from Manhattan/Shanghai

    For over a year, I have been advising a Shanghai-based online company supported by Chengwei Ventures. Mr Li sits on its board. Prior to my appointment, I spoke w/ Mr Li and found his questions to be precise, relevant, and insightful. He was quite focused w/ a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish, including my role in achieving that vision--and this, in an industry flailing in the transformation from the physical to the digital. His were the ambitious goals of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur within the context of China. Exciting to me. That said, I agree with Mr Fallows: that to continue this work, I must "hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function" (F.S. Fitzgerald). Thank you for a great discussion!--SKT

    Dec. 06 2012 11:47 AM

    Rich douches love authoritarianism?

    Who'dve thunk it!

    Dec. 06 2012 11:44 AM
    Sheldon from Brooklyn

    The new leader has already banned long speeches and mid level party types having large entourages.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:42 AM
    sheldon from Brooklyn

    China has been a miracle, especially compared to the previous communist states in static Eastern Europe, a fractured and exploited neo-colonial Africa, and a hyper-violent, class-stratified Latin America.

    But China has a lot of problems on the horizon.

    An aging population with no safety net

    A still poor countryside

    Massive corruption in local government.

    An increasingly plutocratic ruling class reeking of nepotism.

    Urban workers demanding better wages and quality of life.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:39 AM
    Michael Dorfman from Long Island

    your guest is mistaken. this is not the U.S. military. China operated as corporative America, some multinational corporation. However their purpose is not only to make as much money, but to keep as much power.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:38 AM
    Fred from Brooklyn

    Until the Arab spring, no one was predicting that a sudden wave of instability would topple many long-standing governments. China has seen large growth in incidents of unrest, and it is easy for individuals such as Li to defend an authoritarian system while it still remains in tact. Looking at authoritarian systems, few, if any, have had 236 years of continuity.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:36 AM
    Max from Manhattan - Harlem

    I don't profess to be a major economist and "venture capitalist" as Eric Li. But I just feel that to argue against democracy for any reason, anywhere, is disgusting and horrifying, no matter what the justifications. Even if we stand to benefit financially by an authoritarian ruled China, that doesn't make it morally right. Slavery was great for the U.S. economy at one point in our early history, but sometimes there are things more important than money - like civil rights. I think we need to be careful, because we own a lot of money to China, and if they start to have a greater influence on our political system, we'll want them to be democratic for our own sake. Authoritarian, totalitarian rule is a social disease and it contagious if allowed to spread. Eric Li is not impressive, selling his own people out for money.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:34 AM
    Amy from Manhattan

    Did Mr. Lee (Li?) say anything about how the authoritarian system he's praising allowed schools in Szechuan province to be so badly built that they collapsed in the recent earthquake, killing thousands of children--& then quashed demonstrations by those children's parents demanding an investigation? Or how it can't, or at least hasn't been able to, stop severe corruption at lower levels of gov't.? Or how, as others point out here, it allows levels of pollution that endanger the health of their own people & the climate of the planet?

    Dec. 06 2012 11:33 AM

    I respect Brian's brain but getting a sense of where he's coming from -- there are so many levels of understanding he needs to obtain that it would be a lot easier to give up this subject.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:32 AM

    Hi Brian,

    While in China did you hear anything about Tibetans in Tibet resorting to self immolation. It's 92 now.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:31 AM
    GW from Manhattan

    Li is correct . In the Rights rush to force us to not even consider the merits of Socialism, the mindless criticism of a system that has uplifted China from the ashes is more indicative of fear of success than it is a fear of a malevolent ideology

    every single problem that China is pointed out to have can be paralleled right here in the USA , including censorship and abuse of human rights. There is a veil of "freedom of speech" which observers on both the left and right see as coming more and more under attack.

    We are in a glass house and should never think of picking up a stone.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:28 AM
    lcruz from brooklyn

    working link to article.

    Dec. 06 2012 11:28 AM

    The line that the Chinese speaker makes could also be made about the Soviet Union. How many would be receptive to that?

    In about 30 years, the USSR went from a _feudal_ economy in 1917 to a modern industrial economy that was sufficiently powerful to have Americans running around raving that the sky was falling.

    Not many dispute that authoritarian regimes _can_ get economies developing. They can also kill off millions (as Stalin did and as did earlier Chinese regimes). The two big questions are: 1. (purely economic) Is it sustainable? and 2. (broader) Don't people have rights?

    If China's so clearly wonder that the speaker claims, then why so much repression of free speech?

    Dec. 06 2012 11:27 AM
    Sheldon from Brooklyn

    Hail to the People's Republic. Hmm, what was the life expectancy for citizens "being re-educated" during the cultural revolution? Or students protesting in Tiananmen square in '89?

    Dec. 06 2012 11:26 AM

    (I loved Asia -- unfortunately the environment, including the air, is so bad it was irresponsible as a human to continue living there.

    We in the US are fortunate -- at least for the short term -- that US companies moved their factories to "countries" (or fiefdoms) like China that do not have enforced laws.

    If you are in the US, appreciate every breath you take that does not contain spoonfuls of poison, and recognize that the Chinese non-rich are paying the price.

    Also remember that when you are consuming food from China, India, even Indonesia and Malaysia, you have indirectly exposed yourself to this environment. That includes lots of frozen organic produce marketed by your favorite markets, like Trader Joes and Whole Foods!

    Dec. 06 2012 11:11 AM
    john from office

    I am sure Brian's electronics were all hacked and I hope Brian will not now drink the kool aid and love all things China. China will eventually self distruct, as it has in the past. It gets so big and successful and then it collapses due to corruption and the top down government style.

    I remember when the Brian crowd loved Chairman Mao.

    Dec. 06 2012 10:36 AM
    Dorothy from Manhattan

    Simon Winchester (author "River at the Center of the World" and other wonderful books) says that as soon as a westerner (including himself) says he "understands" anything about China, he shows he knows nothing.

    I kept that in mind while I traveled through China for a month and I suggest Brian do the same now that he's back.

    Finally, Brian was in China for an incredibly brief time, close to as much time on airplanes going to and from, as he spent boots on the ground. He should refrain from suggesting that he really "saw" China.

    Dec. 06 2012 10:14 AM

    Prediction -- Day 1 of a New Brian Lehrer

    Dec. 06 2012 10:00 AM
    tom from astoria

    On your visit did you feel any yearning to see all that industry -- ALL THOSE JOBS -- back here in our country? Isn't it astonishing to see the scale of development over there, and so much of it based on manufacturing jobs deliberately moved there by American corporations.

    Haven't they given the future to China for short term increases in profit? Does anyone else look at that way?

    Dec. 06 2012 09:27 AM
    Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

    Though he is a very nice guy, let’s remember to take Mr. Tepperman’s remarks with a large grain of (squishy, let’s-all-believe-in-the-goodwill-of men) salt. This is the same editor who made the lead article in the July issue of FA “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb.” (answer: {I’m not kidding} it would bring balance and stability to the Mideast(!)….sort of like more people should carry handguns.)

    Sadly, FA has a gigantic all of the MSM these, caveat emptor in any discussion of China.


    Dec. 06 2012 07:52 AM
    Ed from Larchmont

    What did Brian Lehrer hear in China about China's one child policy? Views toward it seem to be changing.

    Dec. 06 2012 05:51 AM

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