An Evolving Perspective: The Economist Covers China

James Miles of The Economist, left, with Orville Schell (Bill Swersey/Asia Society)

NEW YORK, July 9, 2008 – James Miles, Beijing Bureau Chief for The Economist, joined Orville Schell, Director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, to discuss his experience covering China for 15 years beginning in 1986. In 2001, Miles returned to China for The Economist, and most recently, was the only Western journalist in Lhasa during the March 2008 protests. Since those protests, Miles has rethought some of his earlier conclusions about China, and he shared both his experience and new analysis with the Asia Society audience.

Miles described the changes he sees in China apart from the recent turmoil surrounding Tibet. "One can't overstate the importance of the Internet in all of this.... It has been a significant feature in every crisis we have seen this year." The Internet has created a new citizenry in China, Miles said, and while there isn't "a debate over whether or not we should have a multi-party system, which people were talking about back in the 1980s, that doesn't mean to say that a demand for a more responsive government is not there—it is very much there, and I think increasingly the Party will find itself challenged by an organized tech-savvy citizenry, pushing the envelope at every opportunity. Not in order to overthrow the Communist Party, but to get it to respond and to guarantee the gains that have been made over the past few years in terms of growing wealth."

The discussion concluded with Miles's assessment of the upcoming Olympics. In his view the games could conceivably go on without problems, but more likely demonstrations will cause the government some amount of embarrassment. "It is not just problems in Tibet they have to worry about," Miles claimed, "it is also Falun Gong, Darfur, any number of issues that people are hoping to draw the world's attention to during these games, and people will find ways, I think, of doing it. The result will be photographs on the Internet that cause fury among these angry 'netizens' who responded so furiously in the wake of the Lhasa riots. We could well see at the same time, a sort of triumphalism as China perhaps sweeps more gold medals that anyone else. Then perhaps you have a kind of perfect storm of triumphant nationalism that is also very angry at how the West has behaved during these games."

Listen to the complete program (85 min., 5 sec.)

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