Two weeks ago, just after the Copenhagen talks wrapped up, I mentioned the very provocative article in the Guardian contending that Chinese officials had intentionally and alarmingly torpedoed the prospects of a deal, which included going out of their way to thwart Barack Obama's last-minute personal intervention. (Original post here; follow up here.)
Sorting through the contending accounts to understand what exactly the Chinese delegation did, why they did it, and what it means matters quite a lot. It will reveal things about the Chinese government's mood and intentions in its current phase of economic success. (Has it become triumphalist? Has an overbearing stage begun? Or was this the result of mis-reading the circumstances and overplaying its hand?) It will reveal things about the future prospects for dealing with climate issues. It will have implication for the next steps in US-China and world-China relations more broadly.
A lot of material has turned up over the past two weeks; today and over the weekend, I'll point out some of the leads, evidence, and interpretations that seem most interesting. To kick it off, here is an account published two weeks ago, soon after the conference, by Ken Lieberthal of Brookings, that does a very deft job of sketching out the evidence pro and con -- and indicating why there is so much curiosity about the way the Chinese team behaved. As he says:
"Chinese diplomacy at this meeting overall was somewhat puzzling. Second-level Chinese officials showed up at critical meetings of heads of state on Friday afternoon - the kind of clumsy tactic that Beijing is usually far too smart to employ. The open dissent at the Friday evening meeting - including having one member of Wen's [premier Wen Jiabao] delegation shout and wag his finger at President Obama - suggests that Wen had lost control over his own negotiating team (Wen told the translator not to translate this official's initial outburst and then simply ignored him the second time he raised his voice). Was Wen going beyond the limits of his negotiating authority? Were members of his negotiating team protecting their personal flanks back in Beijing? Whatever the explanation, this initial Chinese foray into the middle of a global conference with extremely high stakes highlighted that Beijing still has some work to do as it assumes more central roles in global negotiations on financial, nuclear and other issues."
Lieberthal concludes on a tone I'll paraphrase as "it wasn't bad news overall, considering how bad it could have been." He applies that both to the future of climate negotiations and the prospects for US-China relations. Eg, "The Copenhagen 'failure' may in fact have put the world on a more effective, practical approach to addressing the core issue of constraining future greenhouse gas emissions."
More to come through the next day or two. This is a good place to start.
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