How China's Leaders Think

Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn, author of How China's Leaders Think (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

LOS ANGELES, March 16, 2010 - At a discussion hosted at the Los Angeles office of Arnold & Porter, international investment banker and public intellectual Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn discussed his new book How China's Leaders Think (John Wiley & Sons, 2009) and offered his insight into the reasoning of China's leaders.

Following an introduction by ORB Media Group Founder Peter Shiao, Kuhn addressed the domestic challenges that China faces and the often conflicting decisions Chinese leaders make to tackle these challenges. Though China now boasts the world's second highest GDP, the country's GDP per capita is ranked in the hundreds. The country struggles with a spectrum of issues, ranging from job creation for its rural population to the management of domestic nationalism.

For example, in response to the 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, the Chinese government provided buses to transport student protesters to the American embassy in Beijing. Kuhn asked his audience to consider this episode in light of its alternative—"hundreds of thousands of student protesters marching through the streets of Beijing"—versus "tens of thousands of student protesters bused to the embassy." Kuhn noted that though such actions strike outsiders as inflammatory, the "motivation is the opposite."

Kuhn continued with a discussion of what political reform means in China. In light of the country's past, one-party rule may be optimal for China, and there is potential for democracy to exist within a one-party system. For example, in a controversial move, the Party Secretary of Kunming published all 500 official phone numbers for people to call with complaints. This sort of political "innovation below the radar," though not standard in the West, is a microcosm of political change in China.

Kuhn concluded on the note that it is easy for people to see "homogeneity" when looking at others but "culture and complexity" when looking at themselves.

Reported by Albert Hu, Asia Society Southern California