Paulson Institute Hosts “The China Exit Interview”

The Paulson Institute co-hosted “The China Exit Interview,” a panel of top China experts, with Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Each of the speakers—two top journalists and two leading analysts—had recently left China after spending a decade or more living in Beijing.

The panelists were Bill Bishop, founder of Sinocism, the leading China newsletter/blog; Gady Epstein of the Economist; Jeremy Goldkorn, the founder of Danwei, a website about media in China; and Evan Osnos, New Yorker writer. The panel was moderated by Evan Feigenbaum, vice chairman of the Paulson Institute.

Setting the stage for the standing room only audience, Feigenbaum described a China undergoing profound change, with an unclear economic future. “To my mind, economic reform is not an intellectual problem so much as it is a political problem. When you look at various strategy documents, there is, broadly speaking, an understanding of where they need to transition to—consumption, higher value-added industry, and so on,” he said. “But getting there is hard, whether they will get there is hard, and there are plenty of people who don’t necessarily want to get there.”

The panelists regaled the audience with analysis and stories of life in China. Key takeaways: The Communist Party is adaptable, the Party comes first, before economic reforms, and President Xi Jinping is strong.

Evan Feigenbaum, vice chairman of the Paulson Institute, sets the scene, describing China as being in a transition and uncertainty about where the country is headed politically, economically, and socially.

Bill Bishop, founder of Sinocism newsletter and blog, describes his decade in China and the “deforeignization” that he senses is underway. “It feels like there are fewer possibilities right now,” he says. “We are headed for a much harder authoritarianism.”

Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition, talks about the adaptability of the Communist Party—even to the point of renouncing things it cares about.

Jeremy Goldkorn, China expert and founder of Danwei, a website about media in China, discusses the changes he witnessed during 20 years living in China.

What a deposit on his doorstep told Jeremy Goldkorn about China.

A discussion about the rejection of collective leadership in China, Party rectification, the remarkable openness of 2003 and the rise of social media, and how President Xi Jinping has consolidated power.