FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Truth Behind Hillary’s “China Hunt” at Copenhagen

When we met in Copenhagen in 2009 and, literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese, going throughout this huge convention center, because we knew we had to get them to agree to something. Because there will be no effective efforts against climate change unless China and India join with the rest of the world.

— Hillary Clinton at the Democratic debate 10/13/15

Clinton’s debate assertion matches her version of events in Hard Choices, confirming, I suppose, that she provided the talking points to her ghostwriter and then took the trouble to memorize them.

They are, unfortunately, pretty far shy of the truth.

Courtesy of India’s First Post, an excerpt from Hard Choices:

“President Obama and I were looking for Premier Wen Jiabao in the middle of a large international conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark,” she recalls. “We knew that the only way to achieve a meaningful agreement on climate change was for leaders of the nations emitting the most greenhouse gases to sit down together and hammer out a compromise, especially the US and China,” she said.

“But the Chinese were avoiding us.” “Worse, we learned that Wen had called a ‘secret’ meeting with the Indians, Brazilians, and South Africans to stop, or at least dilute, the kind of agreement the United States was seeking. When we couldn’t find any of the leaders of those countries, we knew something was amiss and sent out members of our team to canvass the conference center,” she writes. “Eventually they discovered the meeting’s location. After exchanging looks of ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ the President and I set off through the long hallways of the sprawling Nordic convention center…

“In a makeshift conference room whose glass walls had been covered by drapes for privacy against prying eyes, we found Wen wedged around a long table with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and South African President Jacob Zuma. Jaws dropped when they saw us. ‘Are you ready?’ said President Obama, flashing a big grin,” Clinton claims.

“Now the real negotiations could begin. It was a moment that was at least a year in the making,” she adds.

Horsepucky as far as the “we broke up China’s cabal and got the real negotiations going” thing. The cabal held firm, the loyalty of the West’s not-yet-bought-and-paid-for proxies among the smaller nations cracked, US objectives were not met, and the whole episode was a mega-fracaso.

I wrote a detailed backgrounder on Copenhagen soon after the debacle.  Here are some choice excerpts concerning the United States’ failure to “thwart”, indeed its inadvertent success in creating, the “BASIC” bloc (Brazil, South Africa with initials inverted for maximum acronym effect, India, and China) of affronted developing regional powers:

[T]he United States assiduously ignored the embarrassing fact of ostensible ally India’s move into the BASIC camp—and skated over the issue of how Washington’s conference planning found it lined up against both New Delhi and Beijing instead of playing one off against the other.

When one considers that the essence of U.S. diplomacy in Asia involves pushing China and India into opposition, forcing these two rivals into an alliance is a remarkable if dubious achievement.

India, for its part, was frank about its identity of interests with China, at least on the issue of climate change India has come out quite well in Copenhagen: Ramesh (Lead):

[Environment Minister] Ramesh said: “A notable feature of this conference is the manner in which the BASIC group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) coordinated their position.

“BASIC ministers met virtually on an hourly basis right through the conference; India and China worked very very closely together.”

“India, South Africa, Brazil, China and other developing countries were entirely successful in ensuring there was no violation of the BAP [Bali Action Plan] (of 2007),” Ramesh said.

“Despite relentless attempts made by developed countries, the conference succeeded in continuing negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol for the post-2012 period”, when the current period of the protocol runs out.

The original piece, long and filled with circumstantial detail, is still up at Japan Focus.

Another piece of dubious reportage from Hard Choices is Clinton’s rather counterintuitive explanation that outrage within the Chinese delegation was triggered by fear of the mad US negotiation skillz, rather than anger that the US team had forced its way into a private meeting between Wen and three other world leaders as if it was schooling misbehaving adolescents at a sleepover:

In one surprising display, one of the other members of the Chinese delegation …started loudly scolding the far more senior Premier.  He was quite agitated by the prospect that a deal might be at hand.

The Washington Post provided the context at the time:

China’s top climate change negotiator exploded in rage at U.S. pressure after Obama walked in on the Chinese while they were holding talks with the Indians, South Africans and Brazilians. After Obama asked whether the Chinese could commit to listing their climate targets in an international registry, Xie Zhenhua launched into a tirade, pointing his finger at the U.S. president… Wen instructed his Chinese interpreter not to translate Xie’s fiery remarks.

Apparently the fact that the US stunt—which, I note, Clinton is careful not to take responsibility for–caused Xie Zhenhua to berate President Obama, not Wen Jiabao, is one of those awkward items of narrative that demanded some creative bending and stretching.

Beyond placing the lumpy gristle of Copenhagen failure into the political memoir Cuisinart in order to output creamy Clintonian achievement, the book says very little about the objective that has been driving international climate change policy under President Obama: the desire to “kill Kyoto” i.e. collapse the current treaty and its messy framework of unbalanced obligations, big-and-small consensus, and rhetoric of moral claims on the developed world, with something more U.S.-friendly.

What really happened at Copenhagen was that President Obama had been unable to get national cap-and-trade legislation passed in the US.  Having never ratified Kyoto (with its binding emissions caps) and with no meaningful prospect of national legislation, the United States was unable to put any pressure on the People’s Republic of China to implement national caps and assist the world in moving beyond the Kyoto Protocol (which bound only the Annex 1 “advanced economies”) to a new regime in which all of the largest emitters (including China, India, Brazil, & South Africa) accepted binding caps.

Instead, President Obama and Secretary Clinton apparently came to Copenhagen with the idea that, absent meaningful US advances either on ratifying Kyoto or creating a new regime, the US would settle for half a loaf: incrementally weakening the Kyoto Protocol at Copenhagen so that it could be allowed to expire and the new regime, nonbinding and with the US and other major powers calling the shots (embodied in the “Denmark draft”) would emerge from its ashes.

In tactical terms, this meant attacking the PRC instead of working with it, by dangling the promise of mitigation money linked to transparency concessions to break the united front of China and the G-77 bloc of small countries.

In PR terms it meant that the virtually foreordained failure of the conference would be laid at China’s feet, something that the PRC was not quite prepared for, and which probably accounted for Xie’s furious but untranslated set-to with President Obama.

During the “President Obama walks on water” period, and a concerted media campaign to package the failure at Copenhagen as Chinese sabotage instead of US duplicity, it was very difficult to get this story out.  Before Japan Focus kindly agreed to wander off-topic and post my piece, I had been unable to place it elsewhere.

But over the next two years it became clear to environmentalists that what had really happened at Copenhagen was not a “r*atfucking” by the PRC, as Kevin Rudd put it, but the first stage of a persistent US campaign to gut the Kyoto Treaty.

Now it looks like awareness is seeping into the mainstream.

But I have a feeling that the takeaway from the debate will not be “Hillary Clinton delivered a load of hypocritical BS about climate change” but “Hillary Clinton hunts Chinese!”

And I expect she’ll be quite satisfied.

More articles by:

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail