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Hopes for Obama's Second Term

Bill Moyers gets post-election insight from veteran journalist James Fallows.

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BILL MOYERS: If you were having this conversation with President Obama, he might ask you, he might say-- "Jim, you say that more than two thirds of the new airports under construction today are being built in China. You call your book China Airborne. Why should I, as president, why should our people think about China building airports?"

JAMES FALLOWS: I was using it as a proxy for the tech ambitions that China will need to ascend. The question I try to address in here is whether the miracle of the last 30 years in China, of going from being a peasant society to a Dickensian working class society, will it be able to take the next step, to becoming a truly modern society? Having their own Boeings, their own Apples, their own Googles, their own Mitsubishis, their own Mercedes.

And I argue that's going to be really hard for them. And there are three or four test case for it. Their ambition to become an aerospace power. Boeing is always our largest exporter. Aerospace is always our largest export industry. Are they going to be able to do that? Pharma is another one where they're trying hard. Info tech, things like Google.

So I look at all these test cases and I say, if they're going to be able to do this, it's going to have to become a different kind of country, with not so much censorship, with real universities, as opposed to these kind of diploma mills they have. And so, China's ambition to become, and they're going to have to reduce some of the military overhang and some of the security state. So if they can become a real rival to Boeing, if they can have a real rival to Google, they'll become a different kind of China in a way more threatening, but a way less threating 'cause a more sort of civilized country in the broadest sense.

BILL MOYERS: So if you were sitting there with President Obama, and he asked you for, "What should I say about China in my State of the Union message," what advice would you give him?

JAMES FALLOWS: Say that we the relationship between America and China matters to the entire world because we'll either destroy the world's environment, or have some chance for saving it together. Or else, if we don't work together on this, there's no hope. The two most strongly growing economies in the world need to help the world continue to grow and deal with inequality.

And the stability and sort of decency of China as an international player is something only the United States is in a position to effect, if at all. It matters to our children if China-- how China uses its power. And so, the greatest stake we have the greatest outside our own borders, the greatest stake we have in the conditions for our children and grandchildren is our relationship with China.

BILL MOYERS: So this then is a very timely and important book. China Airborne by James Fallows. Thank you very much for being with me.

JAMES FALLOWS: Thank you so much, Bill.


Bill Moyers is the host of “Moyers & Company,” airing weekly on public television. More at:

Fallows has been writing on economic, foreign, and political affairs for The Atlantic since the 1970s. He is now the magazine’s national correspondent and the author of such acclaimed books as Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economics and Political System; National Defense, winner of the National Book Award; and most recently, China Airborne. Once the chief speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, Fallows also served as editor of U.S. News and World Report.

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