Of all the reporting trips I made in my Washington days, flying with Lawrence Summers to Beijing so he could kiss Zhu Rongji's ring ranks among the most fascinating.
Anyone who has spent inside of five minutes with Summers knows he's not the groveling type. But this was in January 1998, when Summers was deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury, and Bill Clinton's White House feared China would devalue the yuan and toss more fuel onto Asia's already blazing crisis. As we landed in Beijing, Zhu, China's reformist premier-in-waiting, was the man to see first. Summers won pledges from Zhu not to weaken China's currency and to keep Hong Kong's dollar pegged to the U.S. dollar.
I'm reminded of the experience not just because Zhu is back in the news with a new book of speeches, letters and commentaries. Or because Summers may soon be named Federal Reserve chairman, just as Zhu once ran China's central bank. It comes to mind because the economic challenges China faced in 1998 are eerily similar to those it faces today.