The Blog

Beijing Withstands "Smart Power" Assault

11:59 AM, Oct 29, 2009 • By KELLEY CURRIE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

It appears that President Obama has ended up pretty much nowhere with the Chinese on climate change, despite making this the sine qua non of US-China relations over the past nine months. Yesterday, Todd Stern, the administration's climate change negotiations czar, tried to lower expectations about any kind of bilateral deal between the United States and China on climate change in advance of both Obama's upcoming trip to Beijing and the December climate negotiations in Copenhagen. From AP:

"I don't think we're going to get an agreement per se," said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change. However, he said Obama will work with Chinese President Hu Jintao toward facilitating an agreement at the international meeting.

"It's never been an effort on our side to work toward a separate deal, but we're going to be trying to make as much progress as possible," Stern told reporters following ministerial-level talks on clean energy development and climate change in Shanghai.

"We're pushing them and they're pushing us," he said.

Funny, but Stern told the Center for American Progress in June that a bilateral agreement was the goal and expressed his sympathies for the difficulties the Chinese faced on the path toward such an agreement with the United States.

It's been a bad week for Stern all around. His latest effort to lower expectations follows on reports last week that India and China were joining forces to block any efforts to include binding emissions reductions for developing countries as part of the new framework to be negotiated in Copenhagen in December. Any agreement in Copenhagen that continues the Kyoto arrangement of letting developing countries set their own emissions goals would put the Obama Administration in a politically difficult spot, to say the least.

So basically, the Chinese have told us -- surprise, surprise -- they have no desire to retard their economic growth to save the planet, but they will take whatever advanced technology that we will give them so they can make their continually expanding economic machine more efficient and would be thrilled if we would simultaneously constrain our own economic growth through mandatory emissions reductions. Meanwhile, Obama blew off the Dalai Lama, downgraded other concerns about China's human rights record, told Congress that China is not manipulating its currency, and made various other gratuitous gifts to the Chinese and got nothing in return on the so-called "important" issues of Iran, North Korea, rebalancing of the Chinese economy, and now his signature issue of climate change.

Who could have possibly seen this coming? Its not like the Chinese have clearly signaled that they will not sign a deal with hard targets on emissions. Oh, wait -- they have. A bunch of times.