Before the Bernard D. Nossiter '47 Lecture, "Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Europe in Crisis," with Henry Chu on Monday, May 11, Courtney Wong '15 sat down with Henry Chu for an interview.
The London Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times, Henry Chu has traveled all over the world, reporting from various countries about unique stories of the human condition. He has reported from more than 30 countries for the Los Angeles Times alone and has covered Europe since 2008. In addition to London, he has also been posted in Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, and New Delhi. Having received his B.A. from Harvard University, Chu returned to his alma mater 25 years later as a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism.
|Los Angeles Times London Bureau Chief Henry Chu speaks on the future of the European Union. Photo by Abigail Chen '17.
Courtney Wong (CW): After having been to so many countries, do you have a favorite place to travel?
Henry Chu (HC): It wasn’t until I was posted to London in 2008 that I actually visited Italy for the first time for work. I’ve now been to Rome and other parts of Italy on many occasions as well as for long stretches of time due to the reporting of the papal transition of Pope Francis, and I’ve completely fallen in love with it. It’s a wonderful place. I’m not sure about living there, but as a country with an incredible history, lovely natural beauty, and great food, it’s pretty wonderful.
CW: Did your love of travel inspire you to become a journalist?
HC: I had originally thought that I wanted to become a foreign correspondent because I do love to travel, but I received wise counsel from an editor who said that it’s not about traveling; it’s about living in a place, really imbibing the culture and not simply about being a visitor. It was really smart advice and that’s what it turned out to be. I’ve been posted long-term in three different continents (Asia, South America and Europe) and each time going somewhere new is like using a different part of my brain. As a foreign correspondent, I have to get used to a new culture, new language, and new issues to cover, but that’s been a great part of being a foreign correspondent. I get to meet new people from all over the world.
CW: You’ve written about so many different topics. What makes a narrative or story particularly compelling?
HC: When you’re confronted with so many issues and so many countries to cover, the most compelling stories are the ones that center on people. When you find a really compelling character, someone who can encapsulate or symbolize the changes that a country is going through or the difficulties that he or she is facing, you can make the story come to life for readers who want something that they can identify with. In a sense, it’s almost easier to write dry policy stories. What’s hard is to make the story come alive. From all of the countries that I have reported from and all of the places that I’ve been posted to, it’s the characters and the people that I’ve met in the course of my interviews and writing that I remember the most. Hopefully that’s what will stick with my readers too.
CW: Anti-European Union (EU) sentiment has existed since its inception, and we’ve seen the EU undergo several obstacles since then. Do you think that a future cataclysmic crisis is going to occur that will be the tipping point for the breakup of the EU?
HC: I think the Greek crisis – and more generally, the euro debt crisis as a whole across the Eurozone – has actually been cataclysmic for the EU and for Eurozone countries. There was a moment in 2012 where things seemed to be teetering on the brink. The euro could have essentially imploded, which would have had huge consequences for the worldwide economy. There was an interest globally that the euro stay intact, and so they were able to weather that crisis.
I’m actually fairly optimistic for the EU. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to confront problems or that they aren’t already still in the middle of trying to solve a crisis that hasn’t been completely resolved, but there is considerable political will to make the EU happen and that is of paramount importance.
CW: In addition to economic differences, the EU countries have significant cultural differences. How have recent anti-immigration sentiment and tensions between Western and Islamic cultures within Europe contributed to the divide?
HC: It’s definitely true that the rise of Islamic extremism outside Europe and homegrown terrorism within Europe is definitely a problem the countries are trying to grapple with. However, the perceptions of a large Islamic influence aren’t necessarily warranted. For example, if you look at surveys where they ask Europeans, "What is the proportion of Muslims in your country?" and then compare their answers to the actual proportion of Muslims, there is an incredible divide. There is definitely this perception that there is potentially a 5th column inside their countries which has contributed to a reaction against immigrants coming in from sea. A lot of the immigrants are from Muslim countries and that informs the backlash against them and against asylum seekers. It has also exacerbated the tensions between EU countries where some feel that they are shouldering more of the burden than others. For example, Germany has had the highest number of asylum applications and thinks that it might be time to implement a quota system and share it out more equally. That definitely has created tension.