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Belmont Club

A Cycle of Cathay

December 23rd, 2009 - 3:02 pm

Five days ago, as the Copenhagen conference was visibly falling apart, I remarked that its organizers had come not to praise each other but to bury the hatchet in each others backs. Now an eyewitness writing in the Guardian repeats the same points, but with a twist. In the December 18 post, the Pointing Finger Points, it says:

Even ABC News strained to find a silver lining, noting that a variety of high sounding drafts have been circulated “but the language failed to include a legal framework.” Meanwhile, the ever-cheerful Gordon Brown, in a phrase that may forever catch the absurdity of the moment, said of the problems besetting the conference that “they are big issues but the differences are not fundamental.” Strangely enough, Brown may be right. Obama and Wen really aren’t disputing anything except who’ll take the rap for this fiasco. Barack Obama tried to set up Wen by depicting him as a hold-out. But the crafty Chinese pretended to take umbrage — it wasn’t hard given the habitually consdescending tone of the Western Left towards the Third World — and tried to shift the blame to him. The conference ends with the two trying to frame each other. It’s a perfect ending entirely in keeping with the character of the entire enterprise.

Mark Lynas of the Guardian says it was Wen who tried to set Barack Obama up to take the fall, but the crafty American managed to dodge the worst of the blow. The question Lynas sets out to answer is why Wen double-crossed the West.

Here’s what actually went on late last Friday night, as heads of state from two dozen countries met behind closed doors. Obama was at the table for several hours, sitting between Gordon Brown and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi. The Danish prime minister chaired, and on his right sat Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN. Probably only about 50 or 60 people, including the heads of state, were in the room. I was attached to one of the delegations, whose head of state was also present for most of the time.

What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world’s most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his “superiors”. …

To those who would blame Obama and rich countries in general, know this: it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. … China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. …

So how did China manage to pull off this coup? First, it was in an extremely strong negotiating position. China didn’t need a deal. …. Obama needed a strong deal perhaps more than anyone. … Above all, Obama needed to be able to demonstrate to the Senate that he could deliver China in any global climate regulation framework, so conservative senators could not argue that US carbon cuts would further advantage Chinese industry.

If this account is true, it puts a whole new construction on the incident described in Welt in which Barack Obama goes hunting around the convention center for the Chinese leader. He finds Wen with Zuma and Singh in a private room.

Wen, who, it was rumored, had rarely left his hotel room, could not be found. Finally, the US delegation located him in a room set aside for negotiations. A visibly furious Obama, according to reports, stormed into the room. “Are you now ready to talk with me, Premier Wen?” he was reported to have shouted. “Are you now ready? Premier Wen, are you now ready to talk with me?” What a scene for a US president.

Wen was not alone in the room at the time when Obama quite literally burst into the room, according to participants. At the time, the Premier was in a conversation with India’s head of state, Mammohan Singh and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma. Suddenly the group saw itself forced into a conversation with the US president.

If the Guardian is correct then Obama’s claim to have forged an ‘unprecedented’ deal with the Chinese is completely hollow. Not only did Wen take Hillary Clinton for ride by giving her the impression that a deal was in the offing, he made a fool of Obama. And Obama stood there and took it. But Obama, rather than going to the mat with Wen, left the conference shortly after making his big speech leaving the delegates in disarray and dismay.

Lynas mentions the key factor in this fiasco without recognizing its significance. He correctly understands that China is rising to superpower status on the basis of cheap hydrocarbon energy, but refuses to see this is precisely the source of its leverage. The West, by playing the suicidal Greenie game has given China the power to dictate terms to it. Obama had come to Copenhagen convinced he could talk the Chinese into cutting their own throats. He wanted to bring China’s pelt back to the Senate Republicans. He failed.

All this raises the question: what is China’s game? Why did China, in the words of a UK-based analyst who also spent hours in heads of state meetings, “not only reject targets for itself, but also refuse to allow any other country to take on binding targets?” … China’s growth, and growing global political and economic dominance, is based largely on cheap coal. China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to.

China, alone of all the economic superpowers of the world, is free of socialistic environmentalism. Without that monkey on its back, without the need to satisfy a thousand special Quango interests, China has achieved a prodigious amount of real power. Barack Obama, who is in the middle of trading what is left of American real power for European soft power, was momentarily rocked back on his heels. Has he learned anything? Obama flew back to take charge of his health care “reform” plan.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the two leaders meet again.


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