Sunday, November 22, 2009

Water on a Stone: Fallows relays an insider's view of Obama's Chinese conversations

James Fallows has been pushing back in multiple posts against the shallow horse-race coverage of Obama's China trip. The centerpiece is his relay of an anonymous insider's view of what Obama's meetings with Chinese leadership did and did not accomplish, offered here and here. This account is nuanced and neutral enough - claiming no great triumphs, relaying both incremental moves toward cooperation and roadblocks - to come across as highly credible, nothwithstanding that it comes from an Administration member. Here's the summation:
"Discussions with the Chinese just don't offer dramatic breakthrough
moments. It's water on a stone. They don't reveal their Eurekas to you. While you're there you get fairly predictable responses. Next time you go back and get a little different treatment."Judgments will be borne out over time. Will they cooperate or not on Iran? Will they be spoilers or not on climate change? On North Korea? Rebalancing their economy? None of those is a one-day story. The only fair way of evaluating results will be over time.

And a sampling of that "water on a stone" progress, on global warming:
"We closed some of the gap but not all of the gap. The Chinese do not wish, three weeks out of Copenhagen, to be seen working hand in glove with the US to impose a "G2" solution to the G77. They have their own reservations about how far things should go. But they also don't want to be seen as the stumbling block or odd man out."We kept making the argument, We're the #1 and 2 emitters, so we have a special responsibility, a special role. We got some movement. They are taking substantial mitigating steps, which they didn't enumerate but we know
what they are. As best we can tell, they are prepared to submit those as their "target" in Copenhagen, and of course we want them to be "commitments" rather than targets. There is still a stumbling block on the issue of accountability, which is always a hard one with the Chinese. We'd like to have an independent peer review of whether doing what you said you would do. There are lots of different ways to do that... But we haven't closed that part of the gap yet.
Read the whole thing(s), parts 1-4 of Fallows' critique of media coverage of the trip.

Update: Part 5 is up, and includes a validation, from a 20-year resident of China, of my own sense of the power of Obama's core message to Chinese youth in the town hall -- his embrace of criticism of himself as a spur that "makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear."

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