Rob Schmitz | Connecticut Public Radio
WNPR

Rob Schmitz

There are around 12 million Catholics in China, less than 1 percent of China's population. It's a number that's felt at a weekday morning mass inside Shanghai's St. Peter's Church, where a small percentage of pew space is occupied by a few, mostly elderly loyal parishioners.

Until last week, the U.S. "One China" policy rarely surfaced for public discussion, and when it did, it didn't generate any heat. That all changed with a single phone call, as President-elect Donald Trump spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen for a few brief minutes on Dec. 2.

There's a lot of time for contemplation when you're milking cows in Mongolia. 90-year-old Lkhagvajav Bish has milked them for decades. She's a nomadic herder, and she follows them in their endless search for grass.

Today, the ger, or tent, she and her son live in is pitched in a valley surrounded by brown hills whose tops are white with frost, and as her hands squeeze the last milk from one of her herd, Bish reminisces about a time when this valley looked completely different.

Inside Mongolia's largest open-air market in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, it doesn't feel like the economy is on the brink of collapse. Alleyways are packed with people selling carpets, fabric, clothes and nearly anything else you could think of.

But vendors here have had a front-row seat to an economy that has quickly gone from the world's fastest growing to one of the slowest. Everyone here seems to have a riches-to-rags story.

On a hillside overlooking the steppes of northeastern Mongolia, an entire family shovels jet-black chunks of coal into a truck. Every half-hour or so, they fire up a machine that steadily pulls a steel cable attached to what looks like a roller-coaster car emerging from a hole in the ground. It takes five minutes before it arrives at the surface, full of more coal, extracted by cousins working half-a-mile beneath the earth.

For some rural Mongolians, risking their lives in crude, makeshift mines is the only way to survive.

At a Florida campaign stop in August, presidential candidate Donald Trump made a promise for his first day in office: "I'm going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator! The greatest in the world!"

Trump told supporters that China keeps its currency artificially low to flood the U.S. with cheap imports, putting Americans out of work.

But is it true?

The response of China's state-controlled media to Donald Trump's victory seemed almost gleeful. Xinhua wrote that the 2016 presidential election "sent a clear signal that the U.S. political system is faltering," and regular CCTV guest Zhang Shaozhang gushed "Trump wins, as expected!" on his Weibo page.

After a month of student-led democracy protests in central Hong Kong in 2014, there was a moment when the students and Hong Kong's government seemed to be on the verge of actually agreeing on something.

"At one important juncture, the student leaders asked me to talk to senior [Hong Kong] government officials to explore the possibilities of conducting a debate," says Hong Kong University Political Science professor Joseph Chan.

With Chan's coaxing, the Hong Kong government, which was pro-China, agreed.

Nathan Law may still be taking college coursework, but he's already scored a good job. When I ask how much he'll make now that the 23-year-old has become Hong Kong's youngest legislator in city history, he quietly does the calculation in his head.

"It's around 12,000 U.S. dollars a month," he finally says, "but I'm going to donate much of that to the social movement."

When Alibaba founder Jack Ma bought the South China Morning Post in December of 2015, he held a meeting with his new employees. The billionaire tech tycoon from mainland China told reporters he wanted them to cover China more deeply, more broadly and more correctly.

"The more I know about the outside understanding of China," Ma said in English to his newly-acquired editorial staff, "the more I feel that most of the things are not correct."

He railed against "biased" foreign news coverage of China and said he wanted the paper to rise above the rest.

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