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In Hong Kong Speech, Bannon Expected To Take A Hard Line On China

Sep 12, 2017
Originally published on September 12, 2017 6:06 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Former White House adviser Steve Bannon is speaking in Hong Kong today. He's going to be at an event hosted by an arm of the largest state-owned Chinese brokerage firm. Bannon, who left the White House just three weeks ago, has been a vocal critic of China's economic policies. And for more on this, let's bring in NPR's Shanghai correspondent, Rob Schmitz. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what's Steve Bannon doing in Hong Kong?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, the title of his speech is broken into three parts - American economic nationalism, the popular revolt, and Asia.

GREENE: OK.

SCHMITZ: Each one of those items is a pretty big topic. So it's unclear what exactly Bannon is going to talk about. And it was announced this morning that the speech will be closed to the press. So that'll make it even harder to find out after it's over. But what we do know is who Bannon will be talking to, and it's going to be an auditorium full of bankers who have made their fortunes on the rise of China.

GREENE: Which makes this whole thing kind of odd, right? I mean, doesn't Bannon blame China for hurting Americans, for putting middle-class Americans out of work, for doing a lot of other things?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, and, you know, here's the thing. This past weekend, Bannon gave interviews to The New York Times and "60 Minutes" as perhaps a sort of preview of this event in Hong Kong. In The Times, he compared China's rise to that of Nazi Germany. He told the reporter that in a hundred years we'll all look back to see what we did to confront China on its rise to world domination. And then on "60 Minutes," here's what he told Charlie Rose.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

STEVE BANNON: We're not at economic war with China. China's at economic war with us. OK?

CHARLIE ROSE: You want a trade-war with China?

BANNON: I want China to stop appropriating our technology. China is - through forced technology transfer and through stealing our technology, but really forced technology transfer - is cutting out the beating heart of American innovation.

GREENE: OK, Rob Schmitz, I'm still trying to figure this out. So - so if Bannon is basically trashing China and saying that China is up to no good, why would a branch of a big, state-owned brokerage firm want to hear a speech from him? Why bring him?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, it's counterintuitive. Well, you know, first off, this event, sponsored by a firm called CLSA, is an annual one. And in previous years, they brought in other controversial speakers like Edward Snowden and Sarah Palin. It's also important to point out here that CLSA makes its own decisions and is largely left alone by its parent company. So there's that. But perhaps most importantly, no other U.S. president in modern history has been as difficult for the Chinese to read as Donald Trump has been. And the organizers probably think that Bannon will help shed some light on what's going on behind the scenes in the White House. The audience, of course, will be full of bankers so they're going to want to know whether Trump is serious about, for example, putting sanctions on Chinese companies who do business in North Korea. They're going to want to know how Trump really sees China and if his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping is a positive one.

So despite Bannon's notoriety of bashing China over and over, I think those in attendance may see some real value in his presence here in Hong Kong.

GREENE: It's kind of interesting because on the outside, we think of China and culture as, you know, having a government that controls so much including the message. This is saying let's bring in someone who might - who might bash our country and the government, but we want to hear it. Let's give him the, you know, free platform.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, and I think that for China, they're used to a lot of this criticism. They've seen it before. But I think that they do see a lot of value in hearing what he has to say. You know, he's going to be on China's turf, and it's going to be interesting what comes out of his mouth.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Rob Schmitz talking to us from Shanghai. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks a lot, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.