The first hand has been dealt

17th December 2009, 11.30am

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ascended the stage of the press conference tent at the Copenhagen General Assembly Hall to state her views. In other words, the show was about to begin.

Since the conference began, the two-track negotiations – the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) and Ad Hoc Working Group on Kyoto Protocol (KP) – had become mired in a deadlock. The day before, an early draft treaty, which was the result of two meetings, did not make it through the collective assembly, and was once again sent back to the working group for renewed discussion.

The developed countries want these two tracks, as well as another one, MRV, clear and unified standard of emissions reductions; developing countries want more aid funding, to both protect their right to develop and the principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’ in the Kyoto Protocol. Neither side is willing to make concessions on related issues. Negotiations went on through the night, and still these very real issues remain unresolved. There are only 48 hours left to close this rift in the Assembly, this includes the time left for leaders to sign a common agreement.

At this time, every side was at odds about whether or not a compromise could be reached, the negotiation representatives would fundamentally not be able to make the decision, as it relates to the highest level of government policy for each country. At exactly the same time, Hillary arrived at Copenhagen and at her first public appearance announced that they would join the billion dollar aid plan of the developed countries. Prior to this the United States had not given its position on this issue.

According to this plan, the community of developed countries would provide 1 billion dollars to developing countries every year before 2020. However, Hillary does not want to waste this money, and she proposed three conditions: first, emphasizing the concept of major economics, this concept is basically the same as that of the G20 that is to say that newly rising countries will remain in this group. This group of newly rising countries — including China, India and Brazil — splits the Group of 77 and China into two separate camps, which are the so-called ‘BASIC Four’ and the other poor countries.

Second, the major economies will adopt successful measures for reducing emissions. Reliable sources have revealed that last week the Group of 77 and China underwent three nights of deliberations until they reached their outwards position, to ensure that they provided a unified stance on the Kyoto protocol. This has rarely been seen in the past few years.

Third, the major economies will completely ensure the transparency of these measures and that is exactly the same meaning as MRV.

This is the first card that was dealt by Hillary at Copenhagen, I believe she may still be holding some other cards in her hands, maybe tomorrow she will reveal the trick up her sleeve. And there’s no doubt that these cards will allow Obama to land softly. The final card, she will leave for Obama to play.

I estimate that the United States will leave it until the last minute to play their final cards. This is because about a month ago Obama’s plan was to attend the conference within the first week, and then continue on to Norway to give his speech. The benefit of doing it in this way is that he could avoid the opening scene of government meeting, and at the same time, when it comes to the vote he could present himself as devoted to responding to the issue of climate change.

For Obama, responding to climate change has some corresponding risks. A cap-and-trade bill may or may not pass in the Senate, and will be there at least until March next year. Prior to this, the main issue on which the two Houses and Obama will do battle is health care. According to Brookings Institution scholar Kenneth Lieberthal, the result of the health reform bill, may also affect what response the cap-and-trade bill will be able to offer to the climate. At present, the people in the Republican Party who oppose the cap-and –trade bill are in full swing, some even came to mess things up at Copenhagen. Some of them say that the cap-and-trade bill will in reality only make the United States miss out on employment opportunities. America’s unemployment rate has reached its highest level since the depression in the 1920s; this kind of argument has the potential to be extremely harmful.

Nevertheless, against this background, Obama has unexpectedly changed his approach and will first go to Norway and the next day, at the most crucial time, he will come to Copenhagen to show his cards. He must prepare the cards he holds well; he’d better have a good hand. Obama’s first card was Hillary. Yesterday, Hillary pulled out her first card.

This is why I say, the show is about to begin.

During Hillary’s speech, she mentioned that each side of the negotiations had its difficulties, but that each country must come to an agreement, so that we can respond to these challenges together. At this time, she surprisingly made use of a Chinese saying, ‘to look after the people in the same boat as you’. Hillary also used this saying in February during her speech at the Asia society, prior to her visit to Beijing.

In fact, Hillary pulled out her cards especially for China.

Until today the climate conference has been stuck on this point: China and America were locked in a game of chess. China is making use of the Kyoto protocol and the twin-track negotiations to pressure the United States, and the United States is making use of aid funds and emission reduction targets to pressure China. To put it plainly, they are pitting their strength against each other. As for the European Union (EU), they will not be able to put into practice merging the negotiation from twin-tracks towards single-track. Because based on the nature of things, the twin-track mechanism is able to merge into one. Then why could the one track mechanism not return to the twin one? Strictly speaking, as long as there is the power of interpretation and adjustment, any track can change.

What the EU should do is to make use of the battle of strength between China and the US to ensure its own balance. This is the only way in which they can play out their leadership on this international issue and be effective.

And at the same time as Hillary pulled out her cards, within the venue there was the rumour that China’s leader Wen Jiabao’s speech had been cancelled. This caused many people to worry, as Hillary was in the midst of revealing her cards. Next, Obama will pull out his second card: seven state representatives, including the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, opening the conference. China has held a press conference on every previous day, but dropped the ball by cancelling its activities at this crucial moment, which will not have any benefit whatsoever.

However, this statement may not necessarily be accurate. Because there is a chance that China was biding its time and leaving themselves room for decision-making. Furthermore, as for the author’s observations, within these couple of days the comments in the news have been a real success, its goal clearly being ensuring effective communication, reducing pressure, and to avoid allowing one’s self to bear the mark of failure at this Climate Change Conference. Especially now, that Wen Jiabao is coming, such a black mark cannot be borne.

Of course, another possibility is that when the opponent shows his hand, the Chinese side will adjust their battle tactics and change some of their cards.

And so, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei will hold his press conference. According to my knowledge, this press conference was arranged at the last moment. So clearly this was China’s call.

He Yafei’s speech, which was given in English, lasted for nearly half an hour, and almost used up all the time set aside for the General Assembly press conference. He did not mention the United States, but began by stating Wen Jiabao’s presence today, who Wen met, even whom Wen had the working lunch with at noon. I am guessing that this was aimed at dispelling any rumour of cancelling the press conference. Following this He Yafei issued Wen Jiabao’s point of view, it all being things that Wen Jiabao had said, Wen Jiabao had re-stated, Wen Jiabao had mentioned, Wen Jiabao had emphasized etc. From the point of view of the Copenhagen talk, there is not much difference between Wen (quoted by He Yafei) and Hillary. Both of them emphasized the urgent need to abandon conflict and enhance communication and mutual trust. As to the crux of the negotiation, He Yafei quoted Wen’s view as following,

First, the basis of negotiations should be ‘the Convention’ and the ‘Kyoto protocol’. Second, he emphasized setting emission reduction targets. At the same time he explained that China’s emission reduction targets have been set according to repeated scientific research and that there would be no need for negotiations. Third, he reaffirmed the applicability of MRV and that they ought to receive programs supporting the international community, not including autonomous emissions reductions. He further explained that not receiving MRV should not be dependent on irresponsibility etc, and that China’s projects were under the highest standard of legal scrutiny. Fourth, long-term planning and peaks, and fifth, climate funds.

I believe that this may indeed be Wen’s personal point of view. He has a geological background, and can consider the climate issue as a semi-expert. He would not completely listen to the so-called think-tank people.

The content of He Yafei’s press conference, were all things that Jie Zhenhua has said, Su Wei has said, Yu Qingtai has said. In a word, China’s real position is not loose, it does not change.

Isn’t it the old saying in China — fight inconsistency with consistency?

This can certainly be understood to some extent, after all Obama has not yet made an appearance. Have the Americans really shown their cards, or have the Chinese misread them?

This is how the day of the 17th December 2009 passed, and close to evening I learned that the negotiations surrounding LCA and KP still had made no progress. Clearly, the real battle will be in the General Assembly on the last day. What will the show be like? I’m looking forward to it.