Copenhagen message: China needs to sell itself better

By Ross Grainger
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, January 13, 2010
Adjust font size:

The Chinese media say the Copenhagen climate change conference was a limited success, but most of their Western counterparts claim it was a disaster. By disaster they mean the deal struck at the conference lacks projected targets to be met over a specific period.

This disagreement on targets and numbers is only about what governments claim they will achieve and does not take into account what they have already done. In China's case, even before the Copenhagen conference began its government was committed to reorganizing and reorienting its heavy industries on a large scale to meet the environment goals it had set for the next decade and beyond. At the same time, China is at the forefront of designing, manufacturing and planning for extended use of solar and wind technology.

It is thus obvious that what counts for China is not so much as figures and targets that would please the West and its media but actual thinking, planning and execution of programs to fight climate change. As a World Bank survey covering 15 countries before Copenhagen showed, China's government and media have played a much greater role in promoting environmental awareness than their counterparts in any other country.

No wonder, 68 percent of the Chinese polled (a lot more than in the other countries, including the US and France) said they were willing to pay a higher price to buy green products and protect the environment.

Though US PresidentBarack Obama is much admired in China, he proved to be as manipulative as any other US president in Copenhagen. He assembled a "coalition of the willing" behind the UN's back to strike a deal that was well below the world's expectations.

What's more, many developing countries were compelled to sign the agreement, because they realized they could lose the funds needed to fight and adapt to climate change if they didn't.

The Western media blame China for the failure of the Copenhagen conference to reach a better deal because they turn a blind eye to the role the US and its allies played. Obama and his allies placed Beijing in an impossible negotiating position by demanding concessions without offering anything in return, giving China no option but to do whatever it did. It seems to be a calculated US maneuver guaranteed to produce intransigence leading to China, and not the US, being blamed for the outcome.

One does not have to look far to see why Obama pursued such a negative course. He knew full well he could not push a strong eco-friendly program through the US Senate because many, if not most of its members receive electoral funds from the powerful energy industry or its wholly owned subsidiaries.

Besides, Obama needed to demonstrate to the Senate that he could offer Beijing a deliberately watered-down global climate framework so that conservative senators wouldn't argue that Washington's carbon cuts would be further to the advantage of China's industries.

With mid-term elections looming, Obama knew he could garner the support of a majority of skeptical American electorate only if he played his "China and climate change cards" well in Copenhagen.

The most important question for China, however, should not be Copenhagen's outcome, but how it was made the escape goat despite being more willing than any other country to strike the best possible green deal. Plus, Copenhagen is but one of many recent examples of China being branded the "foul guy" over disputes that have ranged from issues such as human rights to dumping of steel pipes.

The West needs much self-review. On the China side, however, it is mainly the task of its diplomats to not only protect the country's interests, but also to promote its image to the outside world. They are also supposed to offer timely and expert advice to the country's leaders on how to reach agreements with other countries and international groupings.

I am not alone in thinking that the Chinese government should pay more attention to raising education standards in the country and promoting and marketing a friendly and cooperative image of China abroad over the next 30 years. For that, China's education system has first to be transformed so that more Chinese stay in and more foreigners are drawn to its colleges and universities. That would help its diplomats to exhibit China's might in the field of knowledge, making it a leader of not only developing countries, but also a great example for the entire world.

The author has taught and conducted research at the universities of New South Wales, Wollongong and Newcastle, and has been a consultant for the East Asia Analytical Unit of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comments

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from