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Rob Schmitz

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.

Prior to covering Europe, Schmitz provided award-winning coverage of China for a decade, reporting on the country's economic rise and increasing global influence. His reporting on China's impact beyond its borders took him to countries such as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. Inside China, he's interviewed elderly revolutionaries, young rappers, and live-streaming celebrity farmers who make up the diverse tapestry of one of the most fascinating countries on the planet. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road (Crown/Random House 2016), a profile of individuals who live, work, and dream along a single street that runs through the heart of China's largest city. The book won several awards and has been translated into half a dozen languages. In 2018, China's government banned the Chinese version of the book after its fifth printing. The following year it was selected as a finalist for the Ryszard Kapuściński Award, Poland's most prestigious literary prize.

Schmitz has won numerous awards for his reporting on China, including two national Edward R. Murrow Awards and an Education Writers Association Award. His work was also a finalist for the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. His reporting in Japan — from the hardest-hit areas near the failing Fukushima nuclear power plant following the earthquake and tsunami — was included in the publication 100 Great Stories, celebrating the centennial of Columbia University's Journalism School. In 2012, Schmitz exposed the fabrications in Mike Daisey's account of Apple's supply chain on This American Life. His report was featured in the show's "Retraction" episode. In 2011, New York's Rubin Museum of Art screened a documentary Schmitz shot in Tibetan regions of China about one of the last living Tibetans who had memorized "Gesar of Ling," an epic poem that tells of Tibet's ancient past.

From 2010 to 2016, Schmitz was the China correspondent for American Public Media's Marketplace. He's also worked as a reporter for NPR Member stations KQED, KPCC and MPR. Prior to his radio career, Schmitz lived and worked in China — first as a teacher for the Peace Corps in the 1990s, and later as a freelance print and video journalist. He also lived in Spain for two years. He speaks Mandarin and Spanish. He has a bachelor's degree in Spanish literature from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A U.S. Navy transporter plane carrying 11 people crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Japan. Eight survivors have been rescued, and the search for the other three is ongoing. NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us from Shanghai with more on this. Hi, Rob.

Engaging the Chinese on North Korea and trade were President Trump's two priorities this week in Beijing — and engage he did, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping gave little indication he was ready to budge any further on either issue.

Soft lounge music pipes through the speakers as elegantly dressed shoppers peruse organic produce and meats at City'super, one of Shanghai's most upscale markets, a cross between Whole Foods and Louis Vuitton. But one look at the price of an American steak is enough to conjure a mental scratch of a needle across this soothing soundtrack: Nearly $60 for a pound of USDA Prime ribeye.

At the end of every summer, scientist Li Zhongqin takes his seasonal hike near the top of a glacier in the Tianshan mountains in China's far northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Li scrambles over a frozen ridge and heads toward a lone pole wedged in the ice. Clouds emerge from a peak above and quickly blow past. He stops to catch his breath. He is at 14,000 feet. The snow is thick. The air is thin.

"This is called a sight rod," he says, grasping the pole. "We come up here each month to check it, to see how fast the glacier's melting. Each year, the glacier is 15 feet thinner."

The bare, plaster walls of Yu Zu'en's new government-issued apartment are adorned with three decorations: an old photo from his years as a soldier, a shelf for his harmonica, and a poster featuring the busts of every Chinese Communist Party secretary since Chairman Mao. He points to the newest one and smiles.

"I wouldn't be here without Xi Jinping," he says. "Under his wise leadership, we're now taken care of. Before, we barely survived. Our village was up in the mountains. Corn didn't grow well, no roads. Then the leaders mobilized us and the entire village moved here."

Speaking to a foreign journalist is usually a stressful endeavor for a Uighur in China. Uighurs belong to a Muslim ethnic minority and speak a language closer to Turkish than Chinese. These differences from China's dominant ethnicity, the Han, have been at the root of a tense and sometimes violent relationship between Uighurs and China's government.

But there's another difference many Uighurs possess that the rest of China is attracted to: their appearance.

At the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar in the heart of Urumqi, everything is bought and sold from tiny stalls blasting local music, in a square filled with Islamic architecture. It's a place that feels more like Central Asia than China.

Thirty miles off the shore of Port Douglas, Australia, tourists jump into the water of the outer reef. On their dive, they see giant clams, sea turtles and a rainbow of tropical fish, all swimming above brightly colored coral.

On a boat, marine biologist Lorna Howlett quizzes the tourists in the sunshine. "How many people out there saw a coral highlighter-yellow?" she asks, eliciting a show of hands. "What about highlighter-blue? Yeah? Anyone see some hot pinks?"

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn to Hong Kong now, which is marking the 20th anniversary of Great Britain's handover of the city to China. China's government celebrated the event with a massive fireworks display...

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China. China's Xi Jinping celebrated with a visit to the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Speaking Chinese).

Each morning, a white-shirted army of bankers fills the crosswalks of Hong Kong, stopping and starting in unison to the ubiquitous chirping of the city's crosswalk signals, a sound eerily reminiscent of a Las Vegas slot machine room. Twenty years ago, the traders and account managers crossing these streets were mostly expatriates and local Hong Kongers, and when they arrived to the office, much of their business was done in English.

In a city as packed as Hong Kong, what's private elsewhere becomes public — like conversations about politics. In the shade of a tree, a middle-aged man in a park tells me he likes China's government and he's not worried about its impact on his city.

Old women sitting on a nearby bench overhear him and shake their heads in unison until one of them stands up.

"Tell the truth!" one of the women yells.

She and the man exchange a few choice words and then he gets up and storms off to find another bench.

On a typical block in Hong Kong, thousands of people live on top of each other. Pol Fàbrega thinks about all these people as he looks up at the towering high rises above the streets. And then he thinks about all that space above all these people.

"The square footage here is incredibly expensive," says Fàbrega, staring upwards. "But yet, if you look at Hong Kong from above, it's full of empty rooftops."

It is, he says, a big opportunity for growth.

Thirty years after Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong labeled golf a sport for the bourgeois and banned it from his worker's paradise, his successor gave the sport another try.

At the wine tasting room of Taylors Wines in Sydney, Australia, bottles are uncorked, poured, swished, sniffed and sipped. There's a lot for employees to toast this year.

"The Australian wine sector is growing at a fast rate," says Mitchell Taylor, the winery's managing director. "And what is exciting is the top level, about 20 to 30 dollars a bottle and above, that segment is growing at 53 percent."

That's thanks, in part, to China.

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