Two time Pulitzer winner and chief foreign correspondent for the new York Times, John Burns, joined me to talk about the turmoil in Hong Kong and the Middle East.
HH: I am joined by John Fisher Burns, New York Times’ chief foreign correspondent from London, and John Burns, welcome back, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
JB: Likewise, Hugh.
HH: I want to begin by, ten years ago, you were in Iraq beginning a long run as the Times’ bureau chief there. Flash forward ten years from now. Do you think that the great worry of then will be instability in China or the ISIS revolution that’s unfolding in front of our eyes? In other words, what ought we to be worrying about the most? Or is it even the Ebola story that’s big headlines today?
JB: I don’t think you can make a clear distinction between those two. It seems to me that both of them are long-running and probably insoluble conflicts, there will be repeated upheavals both in China and in the Middle East, and they’re going to shake our world.
HH: Well, that’s not optimistic. John Fisher Burns, weren’t you expelled from China back in the day?
JB: I was indeed.
HH: And so they’re still not very democracy-friendly, are they?
JB: No, and I don’t myself believe that the Community Party of China is capable of reforming itself and accepting anything like genuine democracy. I think that’s one reason why we in the West who have worried so much about the possibility of declining American power and a rising Chinese power, is China the next superpower? If there’s any comfort to be taken from these events currently unfolding in Hong Kong, it might be this, that the Chinese Communist Party might find itself increasingly confronted, and not just in Hong Kong, but in other places closer to the heartland of China. It will resist, the country will become an increasingly fractious place in which a lot of energy, political energy and economic energy is squandered, and I think that the Chinese hopes, and they were made quite clear when Mao died and was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping, the preface was not just to get rich, or even mainly to get rich, it was to restore China as the number one power in the world, as Deng Xiaoping told us it had been at the end of the Ming Dynasty in the 17th Century. So that is their goal, but I personally doubt whether they will achieve it, because they have not even begun, really, to address the principal political problem. What do you do as you get increasingly rich, your people become increasingly educated, and as we’ve seen in Hong Kong, increasingly unwilling to accept top-down government autocracy. Continue Reading