China had been receiving relatively good global press for a while thanks to their increasingly deep business ties to the West. Now that Bush is gone, the world may be looking for a scapegoat for problems. It’s not that China doesn’t deserve its fair share of blame but their climate change obstructionism (and human rights abuses) is making it easier for critics. As China moves into a more important role, the leadership is going to need to make changes in how it runs its PR. Transforming itself into where it is today was impressive but with a bigger spotlight on their actions, they’re going to need to evolve. Welcome to the big stage of global politics.
Here’s what actually went on late last Friday night, as heads of state from two dozen countries met behind closed doors. Obama was at the table for several hours, sitting between Gordon Brown and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi. The Danish prime minister chaired, and on his right sat Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN. Probably only about 50 or 60 people, including the heads of state, were in the room. I was attached to one of the delegations, whose head of state was also present for most of the time.
What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world’s most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his “superiors”.