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Behind the scenes: Kai’s trip to China with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen
Jul 10, 2023
Episode 962

Behind the scenes: Kai’s trip to China with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

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The treasury secretary's trip comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China. Kai spoke with her and our correspondent in Beijing.

Kai Ryssdal breaks the fourth wall and shares highlights from his trip to China with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (it was “amazeballs”). Plus, U.S. pandemic relief packages helped millions of businesses stay afloat in 2020. But cybersecurity holes paved the way for fraudulent claims. Can the federal government hold these scammers accountable? And how Morocco’s national women’s soccer team is making history.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

Got a question about the economy, business or technology for the hosts? Leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART or email us at makemesmart@marketplace.org.

Make Me Smart July 10, 2023

**Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

 Kai Ryssdal

Ohhh my.

Kimberly Adams

Hello, I’m Kimberly Adams. Welcome back to Make Me Smart where we make today make sense.

Kai Ryssdal 

I’m Kai Ryssdal. Thanks for joining us, everybody. It is Monday today, July the 10th.

Kimberly Adams

Okay, we are going to do some news and then some smiles. But first of all, how was China?

Kai Ryssdal 

It was, it was amazeballs. It was crazy. I’ll get to this. Well, I guess we’ll just turn this into my news fix, right? Because honestly, that’s what I’d put in the rundown. I just put China. So first of all, thank you for doing all the heavy lifting or most of the heavy lifting. Anyway, when I was out last week, we, Marketplace had the opportunity to go to China on Secretary Yellen’s plane for her first meetings with the new Chinese economic team in Beijing. Left on Wednesday, got there Thursday afternoon, spent two and a half days on the ground and then turned around and spent a day and a half coming back because that’s the way travel goes to the other side of the planet. Yeah, it’s a little rough. I really don’t know which which end is up. But it was really cool. It was really cool. Yeah. Yeah, it was really cool for two reasons. One is it was cool just to travel with the Secretary and see what that’s like from the inside the whole press pool thing, what it’s like to see the top of her meetings and how that goes. And I think actually, if you listen to Marketplace this afternoon, the interview I did with Secretary Yellen at the end of the visit, you’ll hear a little first person, “this is what I saw while you were speaking madam secretary, and the Chinese didn’t look so pleased.” So that was kind of cool. But also, yeah, it was it was it was really interesting. But but also the deal is this, right? Things are tense now between the Chinese and the Americans. They’re economically tense. They’re geopolitically tense. And Yellen went over there as first of all, as the Secretary of the Treasury, but also, you know, the Chinese, they like her and they trust her much more, I think than they trust Secretary Blinken. And much more than they know Secretary Blinken, who was there a week ago. I mean, look, Yellen has been coming there going there rather, since the 90s, as an academic, and then as a member of the Fed. And then the Fed chair, right. She has had a lot of interactions with with Chinese economic leadership. And now there has been a change at the top there’s a new guy in her counterpart position. And so they spent five and a half hours, their teams did, in a meeting that was scheduled to last for two. She is painting it as a very get to know you meeting no substantive breakthrough, but really good. familiarization, which, you know, I take her at her word. But you know, it’s the first step in a long road to to realigning the US-Chinese relationship and getting it back to where they sort of trust each other. Because right now, they kind of don’t, and that’s really a challenge. But anyway, so that was a trip. It was cool. It airs, it, our interview with Secretary Yellen airs tonight on Marketplace. And we also I also had a chance to walk around with our Shanghai correspondent Jennifer Pak. She got on a train and came up, actually she was in Chengdu, so she got on a plane and came from Chengdu. And we walked around in my own neighborhood in Beijing and had a walk and talk. And look, Jennifer is great. And she knows so much. She’s been there a really long time. And and I think people will learn stuff tonight.

Kimberly Adams

How nostalgic was it to be back in your old stomping grounds?

Kai Ryssdal 

Super nostalgic. So look, the first time I went over there it was with foreign service in 1995. And obviously, that is now almost 30 years, which is a very long time. And this is sort of the theme of the coverage that we’re doing this afternoon, or did, depending on when you hear this is is the pace of change in that country. I mean, look, every place changes, right? The United States changes Washington D.C changes, LA changes, we all change, but the speed at which that economy has has transformed is kind of amazing. So there is a little nostalgia there’s a little false romanticism for the way things used to be but there’s also a whole lot of man, this is really interesting, and this country is going places and I think that’ll come through tonight.

Kimberly Adams

Can I ask you to peel back the curtain a little bit just you know, I feel like folks outside of our industry don’t exactly know what it takes to be able to tag along on a trip like that. So can you talk about like, the work that it took to be able to make that happen?

Kai Ryssdal 

Yes. So we first saw that Secretary Yellen was gonna go to China Monday of last week, a week ago. And Nancy forgot. And look, I’ve interviewed Secretary Yellen a couple of times. So her folks or her public relations or public affairs, people, they know me, they know us. And so Nancy Farghalli, the executive producer of Marketplace, got her contact on the phone and said, “Hey, we want to come.” And he said, “Hmm. Okay, hang on.” There was an exchange of emails, this and that, blah, blah, blah. And then Wednesday, they said, “Okay, look, there’s room on the plane for you.” That is to say, there’s room on the secretary’s plane. And I’m sure you’ve seen these in news clippings, right. It’s the big, it’s not the 747, Air Force One, but it’s a commercial 757 that’s been transformed into a military aircraft, that’s called the C32. Seats about 50 people. And he said, there’s room for two of you on the plane. And it’s going to cost X amount of dollars, per $4,200 per, per person. And we have seats for two. And we said, “We’ll take them.”

Kimberly Adams

Just to stop you for a second. We don’t actually pay for the privilege of going. But when we go on stuff like this, we pay our costs, just so it doesn’t look like they are paying us like it’s a jump that or something.

Kai Ryssdal 

Absolutely. Very good point. I appreciate that. So we said yes, we’re gonna go, we swallowed hard. And we convinced our boss and our boss’s bosses that it was a worthwhile trip for Marketplace to take. Nancy and I had to do a little jumping through hoops to get our Chinese visas in something less than two days. So that was kind of interesting. Yeah, it was really, it was really interesting. And then we, we also had to, and this was in no small way, the most difficult part of the whole thing. China is very eager, very aggressive, and very technologically skilled in exploiting cyber weaknesses. And so we got on the phone with the IT department in St. Paul at our parent company. And we said, hey, “we’re going to China, what should we do?” And they said, “Oh, my God, first of all, don’t bring any of your personal stuff. Any of it not phone, not your iPad, we don’t want you to bring your work computer. But if you do bring your work computer, then come see us. And we’ll, we’ll take some countermeasures. And buy a burner phone and get VPN and do all this other stuff.” And so that’s what we did. We left our personal gear here in the Marketplace bureau in Washington. And then at five o’clock in the morning, on Wednesday morning, last, so on the fifth of July, we met at the Treasury Building, got on a bus out to Andrews Air Force Base, climbed on the 707, sorry, 757 climbing on the plane, sat around for half an hour. And then Secretary Yellen pulled up in her in her sort of miniature motorcade. It’s a police car and two big suburbans. She pulled right up to the steps of the plane walked onto the plane. And as soon as she was on, we were off. And 21 hours and change later, we landed in Beijing. Yeah, it’s no small thing to be able to participate in one of these. No small thing.

Kimberly Adams

Yeah. So that big fundraising drive. We were doing a while back. That’s right.

Kai Ryssdal 

That’s right. That’s why and thank you again. Yes, please. Thank you.

Kimbelry Adams

Oh, boy, I’m so excited to hear it. You know, I’ve been on vacation the last couple days. Like at the end of last week, myself. So I only actually filled in for you on one of the days that you were gone. I think Reema and Amy did the other days. But I have been kind of checked out a little bit. So I’m sort of dialing back in as well. So I’m excited to hear what you did. I saw some stuff on Instagram that you all were posting with Jennifer. And that looks super cool.

Kai Ryssdal 

It’s wild. It’s just a wild, wild place. Anyway. So that’s that’s what I’ve been doing. What’s your news? You got news?

Kimberly Adams 

Yes. So I’m visiting family in St. Louis right now. And here, as in many places, it has been hot. And we actually had really nice weather this weekend. But everybody’s been telling me how miserable it’s been. And I saw this really interesting article in the Washington Post, because people may have seen the headlines about how it’s like hotter than it’s ever been since humans started tracking the weather, you know, in a meaningful way. And the Washington Post has this really good explanation of how we know that and all the different ways that scientists can figure out what the temperature and weather has been over the past thousands of years, and they can be pretty confident going like 2,000 years in terms of the weather, but there are some scientists are saying that it’s hotter than it’s been like 6,000 years ago, or 125,000 years ago. So here’s like a couple of excerpts, “if any single day in the past 100,000 or 125,000 years, could have been as hot as the Earth this week,” which was last week, “scientists said it could only have occurred about 6000 years ago. At that time the planet had warmed with the end of the last ice age up and a period of global cooling began that would continue until the Industrial Revolution.” Now then, in comparison, during so they give some exact temperatures. But “in comparison, during a record warm June last month, global temperatures averaged 1.36 degrees Celsius warmer than in 1850 to 1900,” which is sort of when they think it may have been close. Now, “during that stretch 6,000 years ago, the warmth was largely the result of fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit, which is elliptical rather than circular.” While right now it’s because of humans. So it’s so fascinating, very sciency. Very interesting. But you know, we have so much misinformation about oh, this is a normal cycle of climate change, and the earth gets hotter at different periods in time. And it’s like, yeah, it did get hotter 6000 years ago, but because we were like closer to the Sun at that point, and a large variety of other reasons like the, you know, end of an ice age, which is not where we are right now. So worth reading, especially if you happen to have people in your life who don’t like to believe in science, not that this will convince anybody. Any who, the other article that I was super fascinated by is in Rolling Stone. And it is unpacking the never ending story of the amount of grift from the Paycheck Protection Program and other pandemic relief programs, and how the Secret Service and other government agencies are still trying to unwind all of the fraud that occurred and how not even the US government knows how bad it was. And they’re talking, some analysts are saying can be up to a trillion dollars that was stolen. And even though there are things that could be done to reclaim some of that money, or at least prosecute the people who did it. Politicians here, we’re not here in Washington, I’m in St. Louis, where you are in Washington, are so busy kind of pointing fingers at each other and figuring out who’s to blame or caught up in the defund the IRS or defund government agencies rhetoric, that they literally can’t get stuff over the finish line to address some of the damage. And it gets into detail about how easy it was to steal from the government, how you had teenagers posting how to videos of how to scam the US government, and how some of the cybersecurity experts saw this coming, knew it was coming and how, you know, cyber theft rings all over the world, see the US government as like one of their most lucrative targets, because our infrastructure is so bad. And things like unemployment insurance, which we covered a lot about how fragile these systems were. And we were talking about how fragile they were on Marketplace because that made it hard for people who needed it, to use it. But that same fragility made it super easy for criminals to exploit it. And it’s really fascinating. It talks about all the warning signs that were there. People saw it coming, but on the same hand, they still had to get that money out the door quickly because it was such a crisis and they pretty much people in the Trump administration. Larry Kudlow specifically was like, “yeah, it’s gonna be open to fraud, but we got to get the money out the door, and we’re just gonna have to take it.” And it’s, it’s super interesting. So highly recommend. Highly recommend. All right, that’s what I got. I got some smiles

Kai Ryssdal 

Alright, shall we? Let’s go. Alright, I’ll give you mine. After having gone LA to Washington DC, Washington DC to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Elmendorf Air Force Base to Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo, Japan to Beijing, and then back the other way. I’m going home tonight, I get to sleep in my own bed. That’s, that’s my only smile. And yes, I realize I’m wining a little bit and it was enormously privileged of me to be able to go but man, I’m tired. That’s all.

Kimberly Adams

There’s nothing like your own bed. Look, I’ve spent the last three nights on a, albeit comfortable bed in my mother’s basement. I’m ready to get home tonight. Although I have been very privileged also to be able to see some family for a variety of reasons. So anyhow, my smile is I’m still on Women’s World Cup News, because I saw this great piece in The Associated Press about how the Morocco women’s team is the first team in the Arab world to make it to the Women’s World Cup. And it’s yeah, it’s this lovely piece about how like this team, it doesn’t have a lot of notoriety. A lot of even though in the Arab World Soccer and World Cup stuff Soccer is incredibly popular, women’s teams for all the reasons you might imagine, aren’t as prominent and don’t get as much attention. And now they’ve got a really good team. And it’s inspiring all these little girls and you know, bringing a lot of national pride. And once they hit that global stage, it’s probably going to bring even more. But what caught my attention in the AP’s write up of this, is they get into the details of how Morocco got the team to World Cup level to qualify for the World Cup. And you can guess what it is, it’s money. They literally spent the money intently to develop a pipeline of talent to start more youth leagues and more youth teams to pay players to make sure that they were able to get infrastructure and spaces to play and all this other stuff. And it’s a model of what it takes to actually elevate women’s sports. And it reminded me of sort of how the US women’s national team made such a big statement and action when it came to pay equality, right, because they’re big on long, big court case. And now you have the women’s team in Morocco, pushing its own, you know, forward movement on women’s rights and women’s issues in their own way. And I think that, um, you know, you just love to see it. That’s all it is. Love to see it.

Kai Ryssdal 

Yeah, totally do. I think it’s awesome. Yeah, I think it’s awesome. Yeah, that’s really cool.

Kimberly Adams

That made me smile. And I will be cheering for the women’s US Women’s National Team. But I think I’m also going to be cheering for Morocco.

Kai Ryssdal 

That’s fair. That’s fair.

Kimberly Adams

Yeah, yeah. All right. That’s it for us today. We’re gonna be back tomorrow with our weekly deep dive. This week, we are going to be digging into the world of fast fashion which some of us love to hate. It turns out that in addition to sort of the environmental consequences, the human rights consequences, there is also a lot of health concerns in the industry, in terms of what we are physically putting on our bodies, and you know, many many other ethical concerns any you journalist and sustainable fashion expert, Aldon Wicker is going to tell us all about it.

Kai Ryssdal 

Until then, as always, if you got a question a comment, a suggestion, anything you’re all really that’s on your mind, leave us a voicemail 508-U-B-SMART or email us makemesmart@marketplace.org. We’ll get both ways.

Kimberly Adams

Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. today’s program was engineered by Juan Carlos Torrado. Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter and our intern is Niloufar Shahbandi.

Kai Ryssdal 

Marisa Cabrera is our senior producer. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts and Marketplace global headquarters. Francesca Levy is the executive director of that show

Kimberly Adams

By the way, there’s candy in the drawer of my desk if you want some.

Kai Ryssdal 

Oh, I will definitely go look.

 

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Music from the episode

Sunrise In The Heights (Original Cast Recording)
6000 Ft. Bonobo
Scenic Drive Poolside
Sweat Moss of Aura

The team

Marissa Cabrera Senior Producer
Marque Greene Associate Producer