China's trajectory is about as unpredictable as what lay ahead of China Airborne author James Fallows as he navigated the country's vast airspace in 2006. In a discussion at Asia Society New York last night with Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, Fallows used China's burgeoning aerospace industry as a metaphor for the stability and tension between China's progressive growth and its suppression of innovation.
Besides recounting amusing stories of a cast of colorful characters from his travels in China and Japan, Fallows shared a major insight into how to interpret China's multifaceted national character: "Agnosticism is the proper stance on approaching China." The "unknowability," as Fallows writes in his book, of China's destiny is a challenge for the global community — and contradictions in official policies make tracking China's rise no easy feat.
Part of the impetus for Fallows to write China Airborne was China's latest Five-Year Plan, in which $230 billion has been invested into the Chinese aerospace industry. Among other things, that money contributed to Fallows' enjoyment of his rides on Chinese airlines, such as the five-star Hainan, where he took note of the hot meals, new plane and attractive cabin staff. Fallows continues to track China to see if it will "change the world, or be changed."
Video: Highlights from James Fallows' China Airborne discussion (6 min., 50 sec.)