Is there a “middle way” in Sino-American “transparency”?

“Transparency” has become one of the most used words in the two days of Copenhagen talks so far. Whether from American Senator John Kerry, from American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or from American Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s 6-member “star” House delegation, “transparency” has been the word heard most loud and clear.

“China must become more transparent, and this transparency needs to be verifiable. Without this, America won’t sign an agreement,” said Secretary Clinton, taking a tough stance at a press conference on the morning of December 17th.

Transparency is the newest expression being used by America about verifiable MRV; the goal of using this term is to not let people feel like the issue is too politically sensitive. Still, America and China’s political differences over this issue are huge.

A lot of observers think that China’s negotiator, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei, at a press conference on the afternoon of December 17th, suggested that the Chinese side has already improved its level of transparency. He Yafei said, “China will strengthen and improve its flow of national information” to improve transparency, and as long as there is “no interference in China’s sovereignty, China can consider international information swaps, dialogue and cooperation.”

But does this mean that China has made a significant compromise over transparency?

This reporter thinks that, at least for now, the answer is no.

The Chinese side of the MRV issue, for a long time, has been that it will not accept international oversight, but will allow some international financial aid programs. Chinese domestic support of plans to slow global warming doesn’t allow for international oversight, because in China’s opinion, this is an issue of national sovereignty, and it’s hard to compromise on this. He Yafei reiterated this during the December 17th news conference.

However, when I asked the Chairman of the US House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Massachusetts Democrat Congressman Ed Markey, he insisted that the oversight had to be “comprehensive.” But he also said that he believes the Sino-American bilateral relationship can find a “middle way” to satisfy the demands of both sides.

“But this hasn’t happened yet,” I said.

“That’s because the meetings haven’t finished yet,” Markey joked.

On the evening of the 17th, in the Bella Center’s main hall, I came across Indian Environment Minister Ramesh. Ramesh told me that now, with China taking the lead of BRIC, there is 75% agreement with America and the other developed countries on the MRV issue, but 25% still disagree. He explained that America supports domestic oversight programs; developing countries, on the other hand, want UN agencies to submit domestic oversight information reports, but that’s all. The developed countries also want to have “discussions” about these reports.

Ramesh continued to explain that China worries the developed countries, in these “discussions,” will bring up a lot of issues that make people “feel uncomfortable,” and will try to link them with human rights issues. But, he added, this is just one form of “worry.”

Some NGO observers have analyzed that the ultimate solution may be to use certain technical language that both sides (and their domestic political audiences) will accept.

Translated by Jacob Fromer