"Significant if true" follow up (China in Copenhagen)

Reaction to the Guardian story yesterday, alleging that Chinese negotiators "intentionally" embarrassed Barack Obama and sabotaged the Copenhagen talks, turns out to be a Rorschach test for views on a variety of issues. Views of China (inherently untrustworthy); views of the US and the West (inherently biased against rising China); views of Obama (ludicrously out of his depth in dealing with the Chinese); views of man-made climate change and big international conclaves like this (big frauds in both cases).

Herewith two representative responses. First, from a reader with a Chinese name asking "understanding and patience" for China. Then, someone with a realpolitik argument about Chinese negotiating interests. The Chinese reader says:

"The points Mark [Lynas, on the Guardian's site] made in the article is too judgmental and biased. Actually Premier Wen attended two meetings with President Obama. Another fact he fails to mention is that CO2 emission per person in China is only 1/4 that of US, 1/2 of Europe. Great Britain is a service-based economy and no longer a World Factory even a century ago, but someone has to produce clothes, cars, and toys. right? Yes, They are made in China (also for Chinese) now with coal-based industry. So what? Put a tariff on these products ,move back manufacturing, put a halt to China's heavy industries? No offense, but China is really still a very young man towards modernization and may never enjoyed a lifestyle many of us envied so much. Is it fair to accuse a young man to stop growing up as an adult? [JF note: This is a familiar image in Chinese discussions.]
 "Of course China's economy needs restructuring, and this will surely proves very hard. From a high-carbon economy to low-carbon economy, the transition nowadays seems more like a international politics issue than an internal economic issue. On the way to a greener economy, Mark really should make less accusations with more understanding and patience."

Now, from a non-Chinese reader:

"It is with a sort of sad bemusement that I read the Guardian account of the Chinese action at Copenhagen. There are a couple things which indicate that the writer might be somewhat insufficiently well-informed, not the least of them the assumption, prior to being wrecked at the conference, that China somehow would like to do things within nearly 200-member multilateral regimes, when in fact the very philosophy of the larger Chinese diplomacy, for the past century, has been dead-set against using such a regime in a positive, rather than negating, manner. I am not sure what exactly possessed Mr Lynas, the writer, to assume thus, but it is certainly not familiarity with Chinese methods.
"I think what China is really wrecking, if this account is true, is the unwieldy system where all 192 members of the United Nations are involved in cutting what are essentially big-power deals; too many cooks in the kitchen and all that. I don't think China is that resentful of cutting compromises with the West (it has done so pretty competently since probably the 1860's, despite the anti-colonial resentment being instilled in Chinese schoolchildren), as much as having to involve every single developing and Third World country in such compromises as well, making the deals that much crummier for both China and the West. To cut a climate deal, you only really need the following: the United States, China, India, Europe, Australia-Canada, and Japan. South Korea usually follows (by necessity) what China-Japan does, and South Africa and Brazil, being on the receiving end, usually can be brought in at the later part of the process. If you think the West is tired of negotiating with the melodrama of some Third World leaders, it's useful to keep in mind that the Chinese shares none of the West's colonial guilt and would absolutely not stand for people like Chavez taking over the floor on something they actually want to do, as opposed to something they want to prevent (in this case they sought to prevent a climate deal through the Copenhagen process).

"For about the last half-century, China has found the kabuki theatre of things like the G77 pretty useful sort of as a bludgeon against the West. It still is, as shown at Copenhagen. But it would serve us well to understand that China doesn't actually seek to accomplish anything positive through such a system, much less be a part of it. When and if China seeks to accomplish a positive result, it will be through Congress of Berlin-style great power negotiations. Of course, given that Western diplomats still retain the uninformed habit of agglomerating China with other developing countries, China will keep acting that way (it is noticeable how the politicians have responded to the reality of China much more deftly than the diplomats, who, after all, quite foolishly still convene such doomed-to-fail monstrosities as the Copenhagen conference, and mouth tiredly about multilateralism)."

  As always, we report, you decide.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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