Journalist John Pomfret speaks about China at the second Seminars at Steamboat event.

Joseph Cosby / Courtesy

Journalist John Pomfret speaks about China at the second Seminars at Steamboat event.

Speaker tells Steamboat crowd trouble could loom for China


If you go

Remaining speakers:

July 26: “Adjusting to America’s New Fiscal Reality: Why This Time it Really is Different” with Dr. Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office from 1989 to 1995 and former president of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

Aug. 13: “The Presidential Race: Polls, Swing States and More” with Richard Murray, professor of political science and director of survey research at the University of Houston

— It may well be worthwhile to keep up the Mandarin lessons, but journalist John Pomfret told the summer’s second Seminars at Steamboat crowd that it probably can hold off on hanging Chinese flags and learning the country’s national anthem.

“China is going to be around for a while,” he said, but intense and often contradictory internal forces could keep it from becoming the globe-dominating force some fear.

He pointed to two recent events in the country that he said illustrate how China’s precipitous rise could be headed for some turbulence, and that deep down, our countries may not be mortal enemies.

“We need to begin to doubt the narrative that China is going to become a great super power that’s going to take over the world,” he said.

Both events involved Chinese dissidents that fled to United States institutions for protection. Wang Lijun was a regional Chinese police official and Chen Guangcheng was better known in the United States as “the blind activist lawyer.”

Pomfret said there was significance simply in the fact that both events happened.

“China enjoyed 22 years of political stability, the longest it’s enjoyed since the 1840s and these events clearly show that that period is potentially ending,” he said.

He also said there’s significance in the fact distressed Chinese citizens turned to the United States for help.

“It shows the really, really central place the United States has within the psyche of the Chinese,” he said. “That’s something a lot of Americans don’t understand.”

America’s role in China manifests itself in many ways that range from a wild fascination with then-New York Knicks upstart guard Jeremy Lin to a deep appreciation for American films that deal with Chinese subjects and a desire for American brands.

He said it’s there even at the highest levels, where the country’s conflicting feelings about the United States couldn’t be more muddled.

“Political correctness demands those in the party refer to the United States as the enemy, but that same guy will be trying to get his daughter into Harvard or Stanford,” said Pomfret, labeling the attitude schizophrenic.

Great problems that range from a drastically aging population with a bad smoking habit to political turmoil that could become uncorked all could level off China’s ascent. There’s enough at play that Pomfret — a Washington Post editor who’s covered stories around the world, had two stints working in China and who currently lives there — said he’d have a hard time predicting what is to come.

“To draw a comparison to one of China’s great Asian neighbors ... we pretty much know what India is going to look like in 20 years: a big, lumbering, somewhat-corrupt democracy,” he said. “We have no idea, no idea what China will look like in two decades, and that’s because of their very unstable political system.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

They may be "unstable" but they're HUGE. There are five of them for every one of us.

The Federal Reserve (that private company, not our government) WANTS this, and they call it "globalization." You can't buy clothes at Wally World without sending money to China. (and that is how they will defeat us, as everything falls apart so we buy it again) The Free Trade act with Mexico is part of the same deal; borders collapse as we become one happy World Family, soon all with our own account in the World Bank. Necessarily so. Just wait.

I saw the same thing in Japan during my 13 months there -- it seems the entire Far East has a fascination the the good ol' U.S. of A. At the time -- late '70's -- they were going through a U.S.-'50's kick -- bobby socks and puffy dresses for the girls, greasers and leather shoes, cuffs for the guys -- it was actually quite cute. Through my employment with Bose, I met many Japanese professionals, and they singularly expressed a desire to succeed in America. This is where it's at, folks.

So I guess the biggest question that can be asked is: What WILL happen to this Big Ol' World? Domestic squabbles aside, at 5-1, the Chinese WILL be heard. Especially since we owe them trillions of dollars, and the debt grows. We employ them; they feed our unemployed. It helps Nike's and Fruit-of-the-Loom's bottom lines, so don't worry about it.

Yet, to quote P.J. O'Rourke: Nothing fights Communism like a Quarter Pounder.

Will American Ingenuity save the day? Hang on, folks, this is gonna be good.


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