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How China's New Wealth And Power Are Changing The World


We turn now to one of the most extraordinary developments in human history. China's government has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over a mere 40 years. There's never been anything like it. And China's new wealth and power are changing the world. This week, we're starting a series that explores China's reach into other countries. NPR's chief international editor Will Dobson joins us now to give us a preview. Hey, Will.


CHANG: So I understand the series is looking at China, but from the vantage point of other countries. Why look at China from the outside?

DOBSON: Right. Well, for nearly 30 years, we've been reporting on a rising China. We've been following as it reaches one economic benchmark after another. At some point, you have to recognize that the world has changed, and China's not rising anymore. It's risen.

CHANG: Right.

DOBSON: What we are looking at now is not a developing country. It's a major player that throws its weight around, that is confident and assertive in sort of pushing its interests. And if you want to see that engagement, you have to be looking outside of China.

CHANG: And how did you decide where to go to assess China's massive influence around the world?

DOBSON: Well, we went to more than a dozen countries around the globe. We went to South America, Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia. And what we were looking to do is not just sort of achieve a geographic diversity. We are looking at a diversity of places in terms of the countries that China is meeting. So that means how China engages democracies versus how it's engaging developing economies, struggling societies, places that are very far afield, generally far out of their orbit, and places that are in their strategic backyard.

CHANG: And without telling us too much about the stories we're going to hear in the next coming days, give us a hint of what you found.

DOBSON: Well, it'd be great to start with a story that our Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz found. He was looking at China's meddling in Australia.

CHANG: (Laughter) Meddling.

DOBSON: Yeah. Look, of course, China and Australia have a really broad relationship. They are huge trading partners. But the relationship is deeper than just goods and services. He looks at a writer who was trying to write a book critical of China's influence in Australia. And for the longest time, he couldn't get it published in Australia. And this is sort of the thing that's really remarkable here, is that China's no longer content to stifle free speech just within its own borders. It's now extending its influence into the public spheres of other countries.

CHANG: Exercising censorship in foreign countries.

DOBSON: Exactly.

CHANG: Where else did you guys go?

DOBSON: Well, in Africa, our Nairobi correspondent found a massive new infrastructure project that links two of Kenya's largest cities. Now, this is something - you can find many places like this - it's something that Kenya deeply needs. It's been very well-done and very well-executed. But it's now leading to greater local resentment at this Chinese operation using Chinese labor. And there's fear, understandable fear, in Kenya that they won't be able to pay the Chinese back, that these Chinese projects that we are seeing sprung up around the world are creating debt traps that could cause future dependency.

It's also important to note that China doesn't always get its way. In some places, they are making massive investments, and these projects are hitting the skids. And we have a story that looks at some of the problems that can bedevil even China in Morocco. And then, in Europe, there are concerns about China stifling free speech, fear over investment in certain high-tech sectors. And also, there's growing concern about China investing huge amounts in ports around the continent. Here's one analyst explaining what's worrying some in Europe.

THERESA FALLON: They've invested all along the peripheries of Europe. It's like almost an anaconda strategy. Like, you surround it and squeeze it, and that way you have some control and leverage.

CHANG: What an ominous analogy, an anaconda strategy.

DOBSON: Yeah, exactly, the anaconda strategy. And how China chooses to use that leverage, how it deploys that leverage really could say everything to us about what an emboldened China means for the rest of the world.

CHANG: All right. We'll be hearing these pieces across the network over the next two weeks. That's NPR chief international editor Will Dobson. Thanks, Will.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we should have identified the analyst who talks about the concerns in Europe. She is Theresa Fallon of the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels.]

DOBSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 1, 2018 at 11:00 PM CDT
In this report, we should have identified the analyst who talks about the concerns in Europe. She is Theresa Fallon of the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels.
As head of NPR's International Desk, Dobson manages a team of correspondents across the globe committed to delivering powerful stories and authoritative reporting on international politics, economics, and culture.