Opinion | Three Years, Three Very Different Lenses on China

Produced by ‘The Ezra Klein Show’

In just a few years, the narrative on China has almost completely flipped. The dominant sentiments in America had been awe, envy and a kind of fear. China’s growth seemed relentless. Its manufacturing prowess was lapping ours. It weathered the pandemic without the mass death seen in the West. It could build housing and transit and infrastructure at a speed we could no longer even imagine.

And then, as 2022 ticked over to 2023, things changed. China’s real estate bubble popped. Its Zero Covid policies turned pathological. Its leader, Xi Jinping, turned what many saw as a technocracy with autocratic characteristics into something closer to a plain old autocracy. Foreign investors began looking to diversify. Companies that had long relied on China, like Apple, began trying in earnest to build manufacturing chains elsewhere. And under President Biden, American policy toward China began to match Trumpian rhetoric toward China: Slowing China’s rise, and building America’s ability to manufacture crucial goods, became central goals.

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So what’s true about China right now? Which of these narratives, if any, hold water? Dan Wang is the technology analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics and a visiting scholar at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center. He focuses particularly on the core vector of U.S.-China competition: technological innovation and manufacturing prowess. Each year, his annual letter about what China can do, and how it does it, is eagerly awaited by many in the United States who are trying to understand that nation’s rise. In 2020 and 2021, those letters were profoundly bullish on China. In 2022, his sentiments turned. And so I wanted to explore the various sides of the China story with him.

You can listen to our whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. View a list of book recommendations from our guests here.

(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Emefa Agawu, Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld, Roge Karma and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris and Kate Sinclair. Mixing by Efim Shapiro. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Pat McCusker and Kristina Samulewski.

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