A story that, if true, is important

This account, on the Guardian's site this afternoon, from a writer who says he was a first-hand witness when Chinese representatives "intentionally" torpedoed Barack Obama's proposals and wrecked the Copenhagen deal. The headline tells the story:

How do I know China wrecked the

 

Copenhagen deal? I was in the room


As the author, Mark Lynas, notes at the end of the story, the Chinese government and Chinese businesses are indeed sponsoring very ambitious clean-tech and clean-up programs across the country. But he argues that the Chinese representatives saw it as strategically in China's interest to thwart any specific or enforceable deal, and to position the West, and in particular the U.S., as the culprits for the failure. Lynas is identified in the article only as a "freelance writer working full-time on climate change." But in another Guardian article he is identified as being an adviser to the Maldives, one of the island nations most threatened by rising sea levels, which could explain why he was "in the room" during the negotiations. I'm sorry he wasn't clearer in the article itself about how he knows what he says he saw.

Obviously I can't tell independently whether this account is true, or fair, and it certainly differs in tone from much of the other coverage and analysis out of Copenhagen. (Difference #1 from most U.S. coverage: declaration of abject failure. Difference #2: flat-out blame on China as the obstacle, rather than problems-all-around. Of course some other U.K. coverage and commentary has struck a similar note. Nuance #3 that rings strange to American ears: the idea that Obama showed up in Copenhagen with anything like a "strong mandate" from the U.S. for a substantial climate offer.)  But even in a provisional sense, this seems worth noting as one strand in the emerging interpretation of China's new role in international affairs, and the prospects for the much-bruited China-U.S. cooperation on climate issues.

I could write in my sleep the response that will come from Chinese officials and from Chinese netizens about the unfairness of this view and the possibility that it will "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." I pass it along as worth notice to those interested in the next stage of China's international interactions -- and those interested in the environment too.

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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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