Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Villains of the Piece: China at Copenhagen

That the Copenhagen Summit on climate change fell far, far short of the expectations of anyone who takes this threat seriously, is not only beyond dispute but was probably inevitable. As noted here before, major poly-national treaties that close in on worldwide consensus need to develop organically and adaptively and not be fixated on implausible make-it-or-break-it milestones.
This said, there is a storyline emerging consonant with my admittedly chronic perspective that the Peoples Republic of China is now almost an omnipresent villain: wherever something tragic is happening in the world, inevitably a Chinese "interest" is close by whether this be murdering their own or arming and financing the most repressive smaller regimes on earth such as Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe. The account of how China sabotaged Copenhagen has been published in The Guardian and on a blog by Mark Lynas, a British journalist focused on global warming and author of the alarming and visionary book, Six Degrees.

Lynas scored an inimitable contact and route into the wormy heart of Copenhagen negotiations having been befriended and selected as a climate change advisor by Mohamed Nasheed, President of the tiny and vulnerable nation of the Maldives. Those islands, in case you need a memory jogger, are coral atolls southwest of India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The highest point on the islands is 2.3 metres the same height as Chinese basketball great Yao Ling, a factoid that should telegraph why the Maldives have become a leading and desperate voice for serious action on global warming.

So Mark Lynas got on the inside of what was going on amidst all the brouhaha in Copenhagen and has told tales out of class in a way that you'll never get from the genetically secretive faceless diplomats who usually frequent the highest altitude break-outs at international conferences. His verdict is blunt on how and why the gathering amounted to so little: "China’s strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world’s poor once again." Describing China's surreptitious two-faced and oft-times vindictive actions, he calls that nation's behaviour, "profoundly shocking." Because China virtually runs any number of illicit third world regimes now, it was able to front these small stature criminals like Sudan to make blustering indictments of the west, while tirelessly working behind-the-scenes. This would insure that whatever came out of the conference would in no way limit their massive and exponentially growing use of filthy, dangerous coal.

Along the way, it was not enough to do all possible to make Obama look bad and ineffective by undermining his last-ditch heroics of consensus-building; the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, even snubbed the US president and other world leaders by sending a foreign ministry underling to what were supposed to be highest level special deal-making sessions. Making America feel small was a fringe benefit of the worn but still effective negotiating tactic called, "higher authority" - which pays off (for those who wish to stall agreement) by necessitating awkward delegate caucuses and telephone consultations while other world leaders wait on China.

Again, one wonders just how much longer the world, especially the diminishing fraction of it that can pretend to be "free", will tolerate the rude, sneering bullies of Beijing. At this time, limiting their power is still remotely possible. But in the horrific Age of Stupid, time is running out on both the problem of climate change and, what we can now see as the closely linked threat of the People's Republic's hegemonic ascent.