NBC’s Matt Lauer, broadcasting live from the Great Wall of China on Monday’s "Today" show, referred to the "double-edged sword" of the world’s attention being on China for the Summer Olympic Games and asked a Chinese professor about how that "spotlight" might be "co-opted by party crashers who have a bone to pick with this country. He then asked the professor, "How worried are the people here about that?" [audio available here]
Lauer, who will be in China during the next weeks for the Olympics, interviewed Professor Teng Dimeng of the Beijing Foreign Studies University 20 minutes into 7 am Eastern hour of the NBC program. According to the University’s own website, it is a "key university under the [Chinese] Ministry of Education" and that "since her initiation, the [Communist] Party Central Committee and the late Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, has provided great care and teachings for the development of the university." Therefore, Lauer, despite introducing Teng as a professor, was actually speaking to an employee of the Communist Chinese government.
Teng answered Lauer’s questions as you might expect a Chinese government employee would respond. He replied to the host’s "party crashers" remark that "China is a nation with a long history of forgiving, and also tolerance." Lauer might want to check with the Dalai Lama and the Catholic bishops in China about that.
Lauer then asked about the hypothetical situation about a protest at the Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies: "...[I]f someone brings out a banner that says 'Free Tibet,' what do you anticipate the response of Chinese officials to be to something like that?" Teng answered, "Well, that I don't know, but to me, I think that kind of protest is natural because these guys are actually using every opportunity to disrupt and -- such an event like this will be an opportunity that they won't miss."
At the end of the interview, when Lauer asked about the Chinese government’s response to the recent earthquake, the professor quoted a supposed opinion survey that found that "nine out of ten people says [sic] that the leadership -- the nation's leadership played a key role in actually resolving these -- in addressing that crisis and the people also follow them around." That figure kind of sounds like the last electoral result in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein years.
The full transcript of the interview from Monday’s "Today:"
MATT LAUER: Teng Dimeng is a Chinese citizen and professor at Beijing's Foreign Studies University. Professor, good morning, nice to see you. Eight in ten people in this country say that the Olympics are personally important to them. Why to you think that is?
TENG DIMENG: Well, personally, once again for me, it's a great event. It's going to be a historic moment that China is going to be a rising power, and China is going to be a sporting power, and the Olympics provides a better stage for China to make that statement.
LAUER: Double-edged sword though, with this great spotlight, China can say to the world, look where we have come, look who we are, but that spotlight can also be co-opted by party crashers who have a bone to pick with this country. How worried are the people here about that?
TENG: Well, China is a nation with a long history of forgiving, and also tolerance. I think they do what they do, and we stand firm on our position that any protest will be okay, but then we tolerate them.
LAUER: Well, let me ask you about that, because there are some people who wonder how the Chinese government will react to either a subtle protest or a more dramatic one. For example, at the Opening Ceremonies, if someone brings out a banner that says 'Free Tibet,' what do you anticipate the response of Chinese officials to be to something like that?
TENG: Well, that I don't know, but to me, I think that kind of protest is natural because these guys are actually using every opportunity to disrupt and -- such an event like this will be an opportunity that they won't miss.
LAUER: How do you think the average Chinese citizen might react to something like that? Will they say, whether philosophically we agree with the sentiment of the protest or not, it shouldn't happen during our moment?
TENG: Well, philosophically and also materially, I think, it's not the moment. To many of the Chinese, it's not the moment to happen. Many would kind of resent it and sometimes they would trigger public anger.
LAUER: Talk to me a little bit -- put yourself in my shoes as a Westerner coming here. What do you think I will notice as the major difference culturally and societally here than the way I live my life back home?
TENG: Well, China, once again, is a rising nation, is a rising power, and the most -- the best thing that we want to demonstrate is economic accomplishment. Look at the city -- look at the dramatic change that's changing around the whole city and around the country in general -- the highways, the expressway, the apartment buildings, the office buildings. As well, the cultural heritage that China still kind of tried to retain -- look at the Great Wall. We are standing near right now.
LAUER: It is an enormous undertaking. The manpower needed to stage an Olympic games is huge, and at the same time, over the last several months, China has had to deal with the challenges presented by this terrible earthquake. How did they do both?
TENG: Well, once again, this is a historic moment to show the greatness of this nation, and particularly, the nation's leadership. According to a search -- according to a survey done by the Beijing Public Opinion Survey Center, that nine out of ten people says [sic] that the leadership -- the nation's leadership played a key role in actually resolving these -- in addressing that crisis and the people also follow them around.
LAUER: We're going to hear a lot now about these subjects over the next two and a half weeks. Professor, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
TENG: Sure. Thank you for having me.