Is China's government too cunning for its own good?

Roughly a day before the Copenhagen summit concluded (with a vapid, non-binding “agreement”), I happened to watch a Chinese Central TV (CCTV4, I believe) talk show discussing the conference. I was quite surprised to hear the “experts” beating up so intensely on the U.S. and Barack Obama. (The show was entirely in Chinese, so I didn’t understand every word, but I got much of it.) According to these “experts,” Obama had come out of nowhere to demand of the assembled world leaders in Copenhagen completely unreasonable/outrageous terms, as if he were a god or the world emperor. Given that Obama has scarcely lifted a finger to push anyone in Congress (Democrat, Republican, or Lieberman) to do anything — esp. something costly to big business — the charge seems ludicrous on its face.

When I watched the show, French President Sarkozy had already pointed his finger at China, saying: “What’s blocking things? A country like China which has trouble accepting the idea of a monitoring body.”. So I was really confused why these “experts” would be so single-mindedly focused on blaming Obama.

We’re now learning from first-hand accounts, like “How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room”, how China sabotaged the climate summit:

China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful “deal” so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.

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. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait. The failure was “the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility”, said Christian Aid. “Rich countries have bullied developing nations,” fumed Friends of the Earth International.

All very predictable, but the complete opposite of the truth. Even George Monbiot, writing in yesterday’s Guardian, made the mistake of singly blaming Obama. But I saw Obama fighting desperately to salvage a deal, and the Chinese delegate saying “no”, over and over again. Monbiot even approvingly quoted the Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping, who denounced the Copenhagen accord as “a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries”.

Sudan behaves at the talks as a puppet of China; one of a number of countries that relieves the Chinese delegation of having to fight its battles in open sessions. It was a perfect stitch-up. China gutted the deal behind the scenes, and then left its proxies to savage it in public.

So this was the Chinese script all along, and the CCTV’s “experts” were merely performing their roles in focusing their blame spotlight on President Obama.

In light of this, I’m wondering whether Chinese hackers are responsible for mid-November’s hack of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit’s email servers and release of global warming researchers' embarrassing emails that so conveniently — for climate change opponents — leaked just weeks before the Copenhagen summit.

But is China’s tactical victory a strategic win or loss? China will suffer greatly from climate change: “China’s top meteorologist has warned climate change could cause "incalculable” damage to the country and that efforts should focus on adapting to global warming rather than slowing it." If climate change can impose “incalculable” damage on China — and it likely will — isn’t China’s opposition to efforts to slow climate change insane?

Posted by James on Wednesday, December 23, 2009