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Taking stock of China’s growing power and prosperity

When it comes to military, global economy, and global influence, the two most important countries in the world are China and the U.S. And in recent years, both sides of that rivalry have become more combative. For our new series, “China: Power and Prosperity,” we travel around the globe to take stock of China’s position on the world stage. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to offer a preview.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Beginning tomorrow, we will launch a 10-part series exploring today's China and its relationship with the U.S.

    With the help of the Pulitzer Center, our correspondent Nick Schifrin and Katrina Yu and producers around the world conducted more than 70 on-camera interviews in eight Chinese cities and across seven countries.

    Why have we dedicated so many resources to reporting on China?

    Nick Schifrin is here with a preview of our series, "China: Power & Prosperity."

  • Nick Schifrin:

    When it comes to military, the global economy, and global influence, the two most important countries in the world are China and the U.S., and where their relationship heads will help determine the future of both economies, global communications and technological innovation, and what kind of world we live in.

    For decades, U.S. companies have worked with Chinese suppliers to increase productivity and profits. Both sides benefited, and China wants the integration to continue, says former Ambassador Su Gue.

  • Su Gue:

    Cooperation is the only correct choice for the United States. The United States is regarded as China's partner.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The era of economic surrender is over.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the Trump administration and bipartisan supporters have come to reject Chinese economic partnership and are now trying to confront Chinese technology and influence.

    Jake Parker is the vice president of the U.S.-China Business Council.

  • Jake Parker:

    We have seen the optimism of the business community slowly decline over time. And as that optimism has declined, it's been replaced by the strategic voices, by the intelligence community, by military, who see a strategic rivalry between the United States and China.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And in that rivalry, it's not only the U.S. that has become more combative.

    The Great Wall was built over centuries by multiple dynasties, and Chinese leaders who took a defensive stance used it for protection. Today, China looks out over the wall and projects its power with an ambitious and expansive foreign policy.

    China's Belt and Road Initiative spends hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure around the world. Chinese communication giants, including Huawei, export a package of surveillance and city management called smart cities. And the Chinese military has undergone one of the fastest expansions in history.

    For the Chinese, President Xi Jinping is the symbol of a new nationalism and strength, says Central Communist Party School Professor Han Qingxiang:

  • Han Qingxiang (through translator):

    Xi Jinping's new era is to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the U.S. fears China's expansion is an attempt to make the world safe for authoritarianism. China has created a network of more than 200 million cameras, targeted Muslim Uyghurs, and cracked down on all dissent, symbolized by police tactics in Hong Kong.

    Xi Jinping does face challenges. After targeting his political opponents, he has internal critics. Economic growth was slowing even before the trade war. And the country is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

    But China's central planners are driving ahead to create the world's largest electric vehicle market, and the country's wealth has allowed for the return of what it calls cultural aristocracy.

    So, as China's position on the world stage grows, modernization will only speed up, says the woman known as China's millennial Martha Stewart, 34-year-old Sara Jane Ho.

  • Sara Jane Ho:

    In no other part have you had such a great amount of change in such a short amount of time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Nick joins me now.

    So, Nick, we know China doesn't have a free press. How hard was it to do this reporting?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The first step was just to get visas. We had to talk to the Chinese government, share some of the details of our stories.

    Inside China, many of our interviews were set up by an organization that's inside the government, inside the Information Ministry. And during those interviews, we had a government minder with us during most of the interviews.

    And so not only did we report from China, but we also felt like we needed to go outside of China. And that's why we reported from all over the world.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Was there one kind of central message that was coming through from the Chinese in all your reporting?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Stick with cooperation, that, drop the trade war, it doesn't help either side.

    And also, from their perspective, they talk about how their infrastructure program, the technology, it is not a threat to the world, as the U.S. is describing it. They say that, if we cooperate, if the U.S. and China cooperate, the world can improve.

    And when it comes to Hong Kong and Uyghurs, as we talked about in there and also will talk about, they say that that's about security and stability inside China.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's a very different story than you hear from the critics.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes.

    Talk to Hong — talk about Hong Kong, they talk about suppression and dissent, not allowing any kind of dissent. Muslims Uyghurs — critics are trying to talk about a whole campaign to try and really criticize Muslim culture and Muslim identity.

    And the U.S., when it comes to Chinese technology, Chinese infrastructure programs, and general foreign policy of China, they really see that as a threat. And the U.S. is trying to combat it and really sees it as an ideological battle right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is a very significant series. We look forward to it. It starts on the "NewsHour" tomorrow night.

    What is it, eight, 10 in a row?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ten nights in a row.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ten nights in a row.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin, we look forward. Thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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