TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: If you’ve got a meeting or a conference you need to be at in China sometime in the next two months, I hope you’ve got refundable tickets unless you already have your visa in hand.
Beijing has confirmed anecdotal reports that they’re tightening up on business visas until after the Olympics are done. A spokesman said today they’re not even going to process applications until September 20th.
That’s not necessarily the attitude you might expect given the economic opportunity that the Olympics present to China.
Joshua Ramo is with Kissinger Associates in Beijing. Good to have you on the program.
Joshua Ramo: Pleasure to be with you.
Ryssdal: What’s at stake for Brand China here as the Olympics approach?
Ramo: Well Kai, I think probably one of the most important things to keep in mind is that Brand China is still in the process of formation, but I think what the Chinese understand is that this is arguably the most important moment that they’ve had on the world stage in several decades and it’s a unique opportunity to really begin to define what they stand for in the minds of a lot of people around the world.
Ryssdal: If things go well, though, what are we going to see? Is it going to be better exports, higher quality, more capital inflows, better dealmaking overseas?
Ramo: This isn’t a graduation. It’s not like China’s going to be different 17 days after the Olympics start. I think what you’ll see is a continuation on the path that has already been established here by a nation that is more confident at the end of August maybe than it was at the beginning of August, but I think the overall trends in the Chinese economy at the moment — you mentioned dealmaking, some of these other things — I think almost everything we’re seeing on the ground today suggests, for instance, less of a role for foreign capital, trying to be more discerning about the types of development that go on here to make them more sustainable, more environmentally sustainable, I think a continued effort to bring development away from just the coastal regions into the poor parts of the country where those 700 million people living on less than $2 a day largely live, and that process is really set in stone. There’s nothing that’s going to happen at the Olympics, either good or bad, that’s going to have much of an impact on that.
Ryssdal: It’s been a tough six months for the Chinese government in terms of its face projected to the world. You’ve had the Tibet protests, you’ve had the Olympic torch, you’ve had the news that they’re basically cleaning out Beijing and the major cities of peasants and undesirables. Are they prepared to deal with the backlash from that when the whole world is watching?
Ramo: I don’t think they’re ever prepared. I mean, I think one of the lessons of the last six months is the degree to which they’re often baffled by that. I think the Chinese were flabbergasted by the reaction to the torch around the world. When that sort of stuff happens, it sets off an almost fearful reaction somehow, a concern that somehow the ideas they’ve had the way the rest of the world sees them are inaccurate and this is the problem of a system that’s changing and growing. Sometimes you only learn by stumbling your way forward and I think those stumbles will not be the last and I suspect you’ll probably see some during the course of the Games and I think the key thing to keep in mind is it’s only natural. You can’t expect this machine over here for a variety of reasons to be running flawlessly, not least when it’s confronted with things that it’s never seen before.
Ryssdal: Do you think Beijing understands the extent of its economic vulnerability based on its external image?
Ramo: You know, I think that is an ongoing debate here and I think frankly, they are surprised, as surprised as anyone by the amount of economic success they’ve had in the last 10 years. They are as surprised as anybody at waking up and finding they have $1.8 trillion in foreign currency reserves on hand. You know, this was not stuff that even five years ago they could have predicted and the nature of the system is that it constantly generates things five years out that you never thought possible. To some degree, they have a sense of what’s likely to come ahead, but I think their hope is that they can build an economic system that is somewhat resilient to fluctuations in the global market, but they understand that at least as far as today is concerned, they are very dependent on trade, global markets are more and more interconnected and I think they’re as exposed to a global economic downturn as almost anybody.
Ryssdal: Joshua Ramo is a managing director at Kissinger Associates. We reached him in Beijing. Mr. Ramo, thanks a lot for your time.
Ramo: Real pleasure, Kai.