Morning Joe | May 23, 2012
>>> welcome back to " morning joe " at 30 past the hour. joining us now, national correspondent for the atlantic, james fallows , author of the new book " china airborne." james, good to see you.
>> fascinating story that you chronicle here, and i get asked why you decided to write a book about china 's air --
>> i mean --
>> you love it. a real love of yours.
>> i enjoy doing that but i also thought after being in china most of the last six years this was a way to tell the big story of china . essentially, are they going to make the next step from being a low-wage ecostructure to being a really rich country ? one of the industries they're pushing on like crazy and whether the going to work or not.
>> what are you learning whether it will?
>> i think it's much more a dicey proposition than most americans think. the last ten years the idea has been what china wants, china achieves by snapping its fingers. it's a lot easier thing to build a giant stadium, even pull off the olympics than have a complex industry like building boeing aircraft or having pharmaceuticals, another one they're pushing, and also the role of the military is actually the most important impediment of what they're trying to do. the military controls all the air space . that's a battle between the economic people in china and the military.
>> and the talk about china is always that sit's going to pass us. a look at china . talking to the secretary. having landing in an airport in china . better than nany of ours. there's a bit of an argument we're in a bait of a race?
>> certainly. anything bought with cash money they have better are and more of than we do now. the number of new airports, one or two in construction now. there are 100 new airports being built in china . if you go there, you can't believe it. the way people must have felt when laguardia was first opened or l.a.x. in my hometown was first opened. it's all new, because they've been so backwards. the planes -- go on chinese airlines. planes are all new and flight crews all young and hired for being young. it's like an earlier era.
>> back to the role of the military, which i think some find increasingly fascinating. there's a burgeoning scandal going on in china that involves an aspect of the military.
>> he at some point goes to the town, or the city where his father was posted and the public bureau, the chinese leadership gets very upset in addition to the scandal because of his ties to the military. what does that bode for the future of china as a government?
>> interesting to contrast this with secretary powell who was here a minute ago. he epitomizes the thorough connectedness of the military with the rest of the civilian government and the president is commander in chief but the pentagon is swi civilians running the military and military professionals like colin powell be trained back and forth about how civilian government works. there is nothing like that with the people's liberation army . structurally, the only place it touches the civilian government is in the person of the president of china . who's also the chairman of military commission . there's no interweaving controls as we have here. so an ongoing real question for the country is, how much is the military a creature of the government, and how much is it its own thing? that's one of the tensions they're trying to kind of domestictary doesn't go off on its own adventures.
>> i'm sorry.
>> you say this airline is not a sure thing.
>> what will decide and when will it be decided whether or not it's a success? a. short term and longer term thing. short term is, almost all of the air space in china is run by the people's liberation army . if you want to fly, say, from beijing to shanghai, which is like -- like boston to d.c., the equivalent, you're routed out through st. louis because the military doesn't want you in airspace. it's inefficient, a big drag how things work. plane flight, low altitude because of this. short term the military needs to loosen up. longer term, the question is, all the sophistication that it takes to put together a boeing dreamliner or something like that. it requires a kind of social looseness that the chinese model has not really been accustomed to yet. like having universities independent to do their own things. international relations that go more normally than the ones from china have. so they're aspiration, if they can do this in aerospace, it's a sign they can do any of these other high-end industries and not just assembles apples, assembling things for other companies.
>> how long did you live in china ?
>> a little more than three years for the first. went back much of last year, too.
>> you said china is a subject, a topic where the more you know, the less you understand, and you talk about the frustration that -- what's true in one region is false in another. it is -- it is a gigantic nation, and it is -- as churchill would say, what? it's a mystery, enigma wrapped in a riddle.
>> right. i came to view this not so much as frustration as being just like life. life is full of contradictions. you never know what's going to happen. general powell was saying the question about the future is you don't know. so as applies to china , the message i tried to get across is, this is really an interesting place. it's full of all of these oddball characters i describe who are trying to be the wright brothers and p.t. barnums and everything else of china , and it is so different that every place you go there's a surprise. so mainly americans shouldn't think, well, red china does x, because some guy in beijing might say, red china is going to do x and some gip 1,000 miles away said, to hell with you. i have my own scheme. i'm going to build an air park . i saw a guy build a palace of versailles to live in, for scale, just because he wanted to.
>> oh, my gosh.
>> so it's a big life -like place that is worth taking an interest in.
>> the book is " china airborne" james fallows , thank you so