What happened in Copenhagen, #4

By James Fallows

Previously here. Three more accounts today. I hope to have a report from another Inside Observer by this evening, and then it will be time to wrap things up.

- What about Obama? From a reader in Europe:

"A familiar situation. When all are to blame, each of the culprits tries to point the finger at the one, only, uniquely blamable fiend who spoiled it all. Personally, in this particular circumstance I found the US President's decision to arrive at the last minute and put on the pretense of saving the day as objectionable as the resistance of the Chinese to discarding Kyoto and being blamed as the main destroyers of the planet's climate balance. What about an equally penetrating inquest on the true motivations and behaviour of the US and other key Western delegations?"

Fair question. My initial reply, subject to amendment below as noted, is: Whatever one thinks about the theatrics of Obama's last-minute intervention, there does not seem to be much mystery about his motives. He was trying to show his "relevance" and influence over world affairs -- remember, this was one week after his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony; he was trying to build momentum for one of this year's upcoming and difficult legislative battles, the climate/energy bills left over from last year; he may have been trying to show that his talks with the Chinese leadership during his much-maligned Asian trip would really pay off. (The long-term tests of a Chinese-US understanding will also involve whether they are able to find common ground about Iran, North Korea, currency values and general economic rebalancing, on top of these crucial environmental/ climate questions.) I don't know of a worldwide burble of curiosity and confusion about what Obama was "really" trying to do in Copenhagen, comparable to the effort to interpret the Chinese strategy.

- "Extreme outburst." An expat reader in Beijing writes to comment on the line from Kenneth Lieberthal's analysis, which includes this line, "The open dissent at the Friday evening meeting - including having one member of Wen's delegation shout and wag his finger at President Obama." The reader adds:

"This really caught my attention - hard to imagine a Chinese official shouting at a foreign head of state!  

"So, I checked and in the Chinese media it was reported that representatives of Brazil, India and South Africa were meeting privately with Wen Jiabao and the Chinese team, when Obama "impolitely" ( "失礼") [shiji - rudely, lacking manners] entered the meeting uninvited. The Director of China's State Environmental Protection Agency, Jie Zhenhua, gestured and exclaimed, "Get out!"  to Obama. Premier Wen then instructed the translator not to translate this 'extreme outburst' and personally left the room in order to speak with Mr. Obama. See http://www.chnqiang.com/article/2009/1222/mil_12610.shtml. [A nationalist-toned site called 强国网.] Sounds like Premier Wen was very diplomatic.
 
"The headline for the piece suggests that at least in certain quarters, Xie's actions were viewed positively:  中国雄起:铁血解振华愤怒指着奥巴马命令其出去!  Something like "China's Might Rises Up: Valiant Xie Zhenhua Angrily Points at Obama and Orders 'Out!'"

- No mystery to the Chinese. From a reader with a Chinese name, a similar argument:

"I have been following your posts on the objective of the Chinese delegation at the Copenhagen. It seems like you are only citing English sources. My casual reading of the Chinese media (mainly the Southern Weekly) [the relatively independent paper also called Southern Weekend in English, which did the interview with Obama during his visit, and whose editor was later punished for doing so] is that the Chinese was upset that the developed countries had been trying to go back on principles behind the Kyoto and Bali agreements. The Chinese press have played up a story about some "secret" draft the Danish host was circulating without the input of the China and other developing countries at the beginning of the conference. [This also got a fair amount of coverage in the US.] Obviously, one should not trust the Chinese press entirely. But it strikes me that in this case it might be easier to infer what the Chinese want from reading the Chinese media. Whether what they want is reasonable is a separate matter.
"I think the notion that the Chinese is set against all deals is simply ridiculous. They are only against all deals that developed countries thrown at them. Developed countries would be against any deal too if it were the Chinese and India doing all the proposing."

Obviously another fair point, which takes us back to the first commenter. Perhaps Obama's motives seem more obvious to me because I can effortlessly take in anything that's said or written about them in the U.S. press. Versus the slog of dealing with Chinese-language material. Or perhaps that's just part of the explanation. For now, this is additional grist for the mill.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/01/what-happened-in-copenhagen-4/33266/