What really happened in Copenhagen, #3

More on the accumulation of blind-men-feeling-the-elephant efforts to determine whether the Chinese delegation was actually working purposefully to scuttle any climate deal (as originally claimed here), why they might have done so, and what it all might mean in the longer term. Complete Copenhagen chronicles here. Three more accounts to consider now:

1) An article last week by two guest analysts for UPIAsia.com, here, who use the same Rashomon image that I invoked yesterday -- hey, a cliche is not really a cliche if it doesn't occur to many people simultaneously! -- but who say that the prevalent focus on China's role is wrong. A different billion-person fast-developing country deserves the spotlight, they say:

"The big surprise was India. After sending some mixed messages before the conference, New Delhi finally made it clear that as far as it was concerned the meeting was about long-term strategic options. It questioned the good faith of the Western negotiators, with at least one Indian strategist pointing out that some of the same people involved in credit default swaps that contributed to the collapse of the global financial system were involved in setting up carbon trading. In some quarters, the financial crisis has substantially undermined trust in Western-backed financial mechanisms.

"India didn't like or trust the proposed deal and wanted to show the West that a compliant India could not be taken for granted. Just as important, it wanted to show that, should a perceived fair deal with the West not be possible, it had other options, namely a closer relationship with China."

Much more on the implications of an Indo-centric (or Indo-Chinese centric) interpretation in their essay.

2) An article to be published tomorrow in the Sydney Morning Herald, billed as "the first detailed interview since Copenhagen with Western media by a Chinese official." In this version of reality, China's ambassador for climate change, Yu Qingtai, tells John Garnaut that far from China being the culprit, someone else was to blame. The real obstacle to agreement was the United States, plus rich countries in general:

"Yu Qingtai, told the Herald that the climate change summit was "a step in the right direction", but repeatedly blamed a breakdown of trust at the conference on rich countries ganging up on China.

" 'During and before Copenhagen there was a concerted effort by a small group of developed countries who believed that by joining hands [they could] force us to go beyond what we are responsible for or capable of,' Mr Yu said.

" 'But Copenhagen proved that those attempts will not be successful. In fact they should have known better. So what the developed countries need to learn from this whole process is to make up their minds whether they want to pursue confrontation or co-operation with China.' "

3) Finally, for the moment, another whole line of analysis: that the apparent sidelining of one of the well-known rising stars of Chinese diplomacy could be due to China's perception of its "failure" at the Copenhagen talks. This argument was presented last week in the Guardian here, and it involves a man named He Yafei. This is a person so well-connected in diplomatic and journalistic circles -- imagine, more or less, a Chinese version of Richard Holbrooke -- that I think I might be the only person who has lived in both Beijing and Washington DC but doesn't know He Yafei. Here he is at the conference, in Guardan photo.

COP15-He-Yafei-Chinese-Vi-002.jpg


Intriguingly, a counter-narrative has also emerged, holding that Mr. He will actually be rewarded for leading a staunch Chinese resistance at the Copenhagen talks. Evidence inconclusive until it becomes clear what his next job turns out to be and whether he seems to be heading, up, down, or in a holding pattern. Who said international negotiations were dull!

Upcoming: a business-strategy analysis of China's negotiating objectives, and a view from the U.S. side. And a reminder of why this matters: quite a bit about the prospects for dealing with climate change, plus the larger prospects for China's "peaceful rise," depends on the interpretations of what just happened in Copenhagen, and why.
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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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