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Chinese Delegation To Arrive In U.S. For Next Round Of Trade Talks


The World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland was the stage for an argument this week. It was an argument over differing visions of the world held by the leaders of the world's two largest economies. NPR's Gregory Warner was listening from Davos. Hi there, Gregory.


INSKEEP: I guess we should note part of the U.S. side of this argument was expressed symbolically in that U.S. officials - many of them, anyway - did not show up.

WARNER: Right. The entire U.S. delegation canceled their trip because of the government shutdown. But Mike Pompeo - Secretary of State Pompeo addressed the Davos crowd by video link from D.C. And just to set the scene here - it was pretty weird. The main hall in Davos is this huge, blue auditorium, seats over a thousand people. Mike Pompeo's headshot pops up on this giant videotron (ph). He makes a joke about the cold weather in D.C.


MIKE POMPEO: You see the Lincoln Memorial to my back. So while I'm not here in person, I at least feel like I'm in Davos with the weather.


WARNER: But then Secretary Pompeo says, look. In terms of China, it's really important for China not to steal technological secrets from American companies that do business there. And he says, quote, "those aren't fair arrangements." So very next day, same blue auditorium, China's vice president Wang Qishan takes the stage. And he's there in person. And when he's asked about that allegation, he responds with a fable.


QISHAN WANG: (Through interpreter) There was a story of a devil and a demon. So when the devil is eight inches tall - and the demon might be ten inches tall.

INSKEEP: OK. What's going on there, Gregory?

WARNER: So the story about the devil and the demon did leave a lot of us confused. So I called my colleague Jess Jiang at our Rough Translation podcast. She's fluent in Mandarin. And she explained that this is a reference to a famous line in a classic Chinese novel. And you can paraphrase the line as the bad will always stand taller than the good. So the vice president follows that line with an analogy about policemen and thieves.


WANG: (Through interpreter) So this is like the relationship between the thief and the policeman. So for 60 percent of the thieves, if they could be caught and things stolen could be recovered, then we'll have significantly fewer thieves. But if there are no thieves at all, I believe that will be too good to be true.

WARNER: So it sounded like he was setting expectations for the trade talks between the U.S. and China next week. It's like he was saying, look. Stopping all theft of American intellectual property, that's going to be too much to demand.

INSKEEP: Yeah - and also suggesting if you say the bad will stand taller than the good, he's suggesting that we're going to steal some things. And you're never going to stop all of it. And we're going to win as a result of that (laughter). That's the way I would read that. Is that what the vice president was trying to say as far as you can tell?

WARNER: He definitely talked about that being idealistic. He said that we shouldn't stand in the way of innovation. He said globalization has caused income inequality in the U.S. That is something for the U.S. to deal with, not to scapegoat China. He - you know, he was very defiant about the state of the things right now.

INSKEEP: So did you feel you understood from these two speeches how it is the United States and China are seeing the world differently at this moment?

WARNER: Look. I think this whole conference is always a reference on globalization. And in this case, I think the Chinese vice president was specifically saying, look. The tables have turned. Western countries now have more anti-elitism, more nationalism. But developing countries - or in China's case, a more developed country - is pro-globalization. And they see the benefits of that. And they want it to continue.

INSKEEP: Gregory, thanks for the update from Switzerland - really appreciate it.

WARNER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Gregory Warner has been in Davos. He is, of course, also the host of the outstanding podcast Rough Translation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENRICO SANGIULIANO'S "HIDDEN T") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner
Gregory Warner is the host and creator of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast that tells stories from far off places that hit close to home. Whether interviewing Ukrainians about the use of jokes on war's front lines, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry" or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers. Rough Translation has received multiple awards from the Overseas Press Club and was named one of the New York Times' top ten podcasts of 2021.