Joe Kahn, the Times’ deputy foreign editor, is the paper’s go-to China-expert.
He’s won a Pulitzer for his work in China, and has been described as the paper’s most invaluable resource for explaining Beijing and China to the paper’s sports desk.
He’ll be on the Charlie Rose show tomorrow night to explain China to Channel 13 viewers, but before you tune into that, here’s what he had to say to us while he spoke to him for our cover story this week:
China’s surprisingly rough year:
“I think many of us who have spent time in China tended to discount predictions made with whether or not China could handle these games successfully…The international media already has a pretty big presence, and even with an increase in quantity, there wouldn’t be a lack of sophistication with understanding China—it’s not like they’re letting in press for the first time as they were with Nixon’s visit to China. It’s not like outside presence is new …
“I think in the last few months there have been more hiccups than expected in the sense that no one anticipated ethnic unrest in Tibet, no one anticipated disruptions with torch protests and even those of us who wrote about pollution anticipated they wouldn’t have as much as difficulty as they have had. So I think predictions are difficult to make and we don’t know how the games will go off.”
‘There’s no question that the Olympics coverage cannot be defined solely as a sporting event:’
“For the first time in a while, the summer Olympics is taking place where the host city is a big part, if not the dominant part, of the story and we’ll go back to L.A. in ’84 or Moscow in ’80 to find something that was equivalent. Clearly, those were Cold War issues, and this one doesn’t have a boycott, or Cold War issues, but there’s a major political story: China’s quest for the Olympics to help signal its importance on the world stage.
"It spent $40 to $50 billion to rebuild the capital city of Beijing and then there’s a breakout of ethnic unrest in Tibet and the torch relay was interrupted. There are very significant political and diplomatic elements out there that there’s no question that the Olympics coverage cannot be defined solely as a sporting event.”
Beijing’s expectations for the media:
"There’s a big devotion of resources on China’s part to accommodate international media and make clear internally to their own people that there are more reporters at these games, and that underscores the importance of the events.
"The second reason they are so eager to host is to telegraph to the rest of the world how much the country has progressed over the last few years and you need to the media to do that. They want the leading American press and on the whole they are quite willing to take the bad along with the good. Journalists will write about the beauty of the architecture in Beijing—we���ve had some of that. Obviously, there will be the other side—I don’t think they’re expecting positive coverage. There are enough reporters in Beijing that they will get a mix, and, on the whole, and China has made the calculation that generally means more good than bad."