Posts tagged: Barack Obama

The Deliverables from Obama’s Trip – US-China Joint Statement

By , November 19, 2009

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 17, 2009

U.S.-China Joint Statement

November 17, 2009

Beijing, China

At the invitation of President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China, President Barack Obama of the United States of America is paying a state visit to China from November 15–18, 2009.  The Presidents held in-depth, productive and candid discussions on U.S.-China relations and other issues of mutual interest.  They highlighted the substantial progress in U.S.-China relations over the past 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, and they reached agreement to advance U.S.-China relations in the new era.  President Obama will have separate meetings with Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and Premier Wen Jiabao. President Obama also spoke with and answered questions from Chinese youth.

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Presidents Obama & Hu – Joint Press Conference – Nov. 17, 2009

By , November 19, 2009

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                        November 17, 2009

JOINT PRESS STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT OBAMA

AND PRESIDENT HU OF CHINA

Great Hall

Beijing, China

12:37 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT HU:  (As translated.) Your Excellency President Obama, and dear friends from the news media, ladies and gentlemen:  I’m very happy to meet our friends from the press and media.  To begin with, I would like to extend on behalf of the Chinese government and people a warm welcome to President Obama on his state visit.  Welcome to China.

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Just For Fun: President Obama’s Itinerary to See the Real China

By , November 17, 2009

Susan Fishman Orlins, freelance writer and longtime China-watcher, offers some advice on where President Obama needs to go to see the real Beijing. 

Biking in Beijing - perhaps the best way to get around

Biking in Beijing - perhaps the best way to get around


DEAR MR PRESIDENT:  WHAT TO DO IN BEIJING

By Susan Fishman Orlins

Dear President Obama,

As I bike around Beijing this week, during a short trip to see my daughter who works here, I’ve been thinking about some local attractions you might enjoy during your visit.  I’ve also been thinking about how the ratio of bicycles to automobiles appears to have flip-flopped from the first time I arrived in China, thirty years ago.  When you inhale the acrid smell of motor vehicle fumes and view this smoggy city–as though through gauze or an organdy curtain, soiled with age–you may decide that you too would prefer getting around on a two-wheeler rather than waiting in traffic jams, adding to the pollution.  You can rent a bike at any of several subway stations and drop it off at any of the others.  Just be aware of the rule of the streets:  the bigger you are, the more you have the right of way.  At intersections, cars will turn from all four directions, seemingly at once, without slowing down.

I like starting off my stay here with a foot massage.  Side by side in oversized, cushy club chairs with high backs that recline, you and President Hu Jintao can first soak your feet in a barrel of milk, herbs and Chinese medicine.  Then, in the privacy of a room for two, you can watch CNN on the flat-screen TV or discuss human rights, while young men knead your shins and toes with Healthy Spa Life Cure Professor massage lotion. 

Afterwards, you might want to buy some gifts for Malia and Sasha.  Head to trendy Nanluoguoxiang, lined with coffee bars and boutiques and where you can pick up a couple of Oba-Mao t-shirts with your own image donning a red-star cap. 

Beijing's Hutong Life

Beijing's Hutong Life

I suggest quickly making your way out of there through the crowds of Chinese yuppies and foreign tourists.  To witness something of life as it has been here for decades (try to mentally delete all the cars), head south and turn into any hutong and lose yourself in the maze of narrow lanes lined with low courtyard houses with sloping tile roofs, most of which–unlike in earlier times–provide shelter for several families.  Some hutongs are quieter than others, with maybe only a cat stealthily creeping along the edge of a courtyard wall and a few rusty bikes leaning below.  Then you turn a corner and there unfolds a row of tiny, old shopfronts, many of which are selling dough in its endless forms:  fried, flat, squishy, steamed, noodly.  A bun–that looks like a large cream-colored ball you squeeze to exercise your hands–might be empty inside or filled with bean paste or minced pork.  Or you can get dumplings floating in broth. 

Hutongs are where I most like to watch the bustle.  Watching the bustle is a typical Chinese activity;  they call it kankan renao, literally look at bustle.  I could steer you to the hutong where I talked to a baby and bought striped socks from her grandmother, while a guy in a hard hat working nearby secured a shelf I’d bought to the back of my bicycle with some electrical wire.  But that would take away the fun of discovery.  No matter which way you turn in these lanes, you’ll get a sense of community, especially for elderly folks, whereas at home in the U.S. my sense of life for the elderly is often one of loneliness.

In fact, when I asked a retired Chinese friend what she does all day, she replied, “Wanr,” which is Beijingspeak for play and means hang out.  She hangs out in the park with her friends.  Just north of Jingshan Park, you can experience an inviting “playground” for senior citizens, one of many throughout the city.  Don’t be surprised if the rows of ping pong tables are all in use.  At a small cement table by the fence, some lao touzi, or old men, will probably be playing Chinese checkers with a ring of onlookers that sometimes grows to three-deep.  Meanwhile, lao tai tai, or old women sit on benches chattering.  Try out some of the colorful exercise contraptions:  stand on one to swing front to back, side to side on another.  Some have bars that stick out for leaning against to massage your back.  Ahh, lovely.  Maybe if we provided more recreation like this for our elderly, we could reduce health-care costs.

Another way the Chinese promote good health is by drinking tea.  My favorite teahouse in Beijing is Stone Boat, located in zen-like Ritan Park.  This being an embassy area, the setting is quiet, though you occasionally hear strains of someone practicing Peking Opera.  The teahouse is the shape of a shortened train car painted with intricate designs in which Chinese reds and greens dominate.  The carved wooden window frames open to a pond where a few men may be fishing, bare willow branches weeping over them.  Try for some solitary moments here, an opportunity to think quietly or take some notes, while sipping ginger tea.

If Michelle were with you, and if it were date night, I would suggest dinner at Lan in the business area, more for the exotic atmosphere than the expensive food.  In any case, it’s worth going there just to have a look at how lavish New China can be.  But be forewarned of sensory overload:  there are even paintings on the ceilings.  The blend of contemporary design with baroque and whimsy gives an overall Alice-in-Wonderland effect.  My favorite displays are on glass shelves that line the walls on either side after you enter:  a rainbow of fabrics stacked alongside cones of brightly colored thread, mock elaborately decorated pastries and cakes, Jesus candles of various sizes and shaped burnt down to different heights.  And sprinkled throughout, photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. 

For more down-to-earth dining, I’d have a meal at Liu Zhai Shi Fu, located in a hutong behind The National Art

A feast at Liu Zhai Shifu - ma dofu is on the bottom right

A feast at Liu Zhai Shifu - ma dofu is on the bottom right

Museum of China.  Though it can be a bit chilly, sit in the enclosed area that used to be the courtyard of this family-run restaurant, where silk vines hang overhead.  Be sure to order ma doufu, a dish of old Beijing and, though it looks like chopped liver mixed with wet cement, it’s the most delicious dish made from a soy bean I’ve ever tasted:  sour, spicy hot, smooth on the palate.

Before you leave Beijing, why not drop in on the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) offices and chat with the young Chinese employees there as well as with Princeton Fellows and other American interns who are doing all they can to safeguard the earth?

I hope you have a great and productive trip.

Warm regards,

Susan Fishman Orlins

Susan Fishman Orlins Susan’s work has appeared previously in The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as in Moment Magazine, where she is an associate editor.  She received a Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish journalism for her Moment profile of Deborah Tannen. 

Obama’s Chinese Youth Vote – Filled with Hope As Well As Suggestions

By , November 15, 2009

Originally Posted on the Huffington Post.

Chinese artist's rendition of Barack Obama with Cultural Revolution Slogan "Serve the People"

Chinese artist's rendition of Barack Obama with Cultural Revolution Slogan "Serve the People"

Beijing, China – A certain excitement has lighted the streets of Beijing in anticipation of President Barack Obama’s maiden visit here this week.  Not only has the capital experienced two days of clear blue skies, a rarity in a city that is usually encased in a yellow, gritty smog during the cold winter months, but there is an electricity in the air as everyone discusses President Obama’s visit – from the formal news casters on TV analyzing the potential agenda to the famously earthy taxi drivers complaining about the potential traffic nightmare.

But like President Obama’s fan base back home, the young in China are especially keen on his visit.  And the President is acutely aware of this fact.  On Monday, his first day in China, President Obama will meet with a group of Chinese college and graduate students in Shanghai, to listen to their opinions and answer their questions.  What do these students think of President Obama?  What questions or recommendations will they have for the President?

In talking to a group of graduate students from the China University of Political Science and Law, one of Beijing’s most prestigious universities, President Obama’s rise to power has filled them with the hope that the impossible, or at least the improbable, is achievable.  “He gives young people encouragement.  If you work hard, you can obtain a high position….it’s the American Dream.” said Xie Jinbao (pronounced Syeh Gin-bao).    “For many, it is very dream-like” explained Liu Huisheng (pronounced Leo Hway-sheng), while cautioning that only those who care about politics have been paying attention.  “In general though my friends are neutral [about President Obama].”

In pinpointing the source of this hope, the Chinese students spoke more frankly than their American counterparts on

China University of Political Science and Law

China University of Political Science and Law

one subject in particular: President Obama’s race.  “He’s America’s first black president” Li Siming (pronounced Lee Tsi-ming) offered excitedly, “it makes young people very excited.”   “America was able to elect a black president, it shows that it has a certain openness” said Dong Jianjun (pronounced Dong Geeann-june).  The students also derived inspiration from the multicultural nature of the President’s cabinet, mentioning by name, at least their Chinese names, the appointment of Chinese-Americans including Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu.  “In China, this could never happen; a foreigner could never work in the administration” said Xie Jinbao.

For the students, many who have little recognition of a world before President George W. Bush, President Obama represents a new approach to the global order, an approach that they eagerly look to be a part of.  “He is much better than Bush” Xie Jinbao said.  “Bush believed in unilateralism, but Obama supports multilateralism.”  At a time when many western observers question China’s commitment as a collaborator on the world stage, Li Siwei (pronounced Lee Tsi-way) seemed to imply her generation’s eagerness for greater responsibility: “Obama is willing to work with other countries, there will be more cooperation.”

But even though the term superstar was used repeatedly to describe President Obama and student Liang Xuanjing (pronounced Leeang Syuan-jing) was in awe of President Obama’s charisma, there were words of caution.  “Confucius had a saying ‘If a person is too perfect, we will have doubts’” Liu Huisheng said, noting that perhaps President Obama’s speeches are a bit “too perfect.”  Dong Jianjun echoed this sentiment: “Compared to presidents like Roosevelt or Kennedy, Obama has similarly great charisma…but we have yet to see if his [Obama’s] policies will be effective.”  Like many Americans, these Chinese students are looking for President Obama to follow through on the promises of his speeches.  In a relationship as close as the one between China and the U.S., President Obama’s actions, or lack of action, directly impact China and many of these Chinese students’ futures.

Not surprisingly though, many of the topics that the students would like Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao (pronounced Who Gin-tao) to discuss are the same as their U.S. contemporaries – international trade and the ever escalating tariff war topped the list for these students.  But so did the issue of climate change and energy efficiency as well as the economic recovery.

China’s youth are not that different from the young back home – they share the same hope that Presidents Obama and Hu can make the world a better place and they express an eagerness for a new world order where the U.S. and China can work through their issues.  But like their American brethren, if Presidents Obama and Hu cannot solve many of today’s problems, including the economic crisis, climate change, and an increasingly cantankerous trade relationship, it will be their generation that will be left holding the bag.

A Necessary Addition to Obama’s China Trip Agenda – Chinese Public Interest Lawyers

By , November 11, 2009

More than a McDonald's for China's public interest lawyers

More than a McDonald's for China's public interest lawyers

Originally Posted on the Huffington Post

Beijing, China – You would never expect a group of professional attorneys to hold a serious meeting in a McDonald’s, but for Chinese public interest lawyers, it is one of the few remaining safe places to meet.  With constant surveillance and random harassment by Chinese police, a public place like McDonald’s decreases the very real risk that the police will arbitrarily drag these public interest lawyers, known in Chinese as weiquan lawyers (pronounced way choo-ann and translated as “rights defending” lawyers), into custody.  So that is where I found myself last Friday when I met with three public interest attorneys in Beijing, all recently disbarred, to discuss their expectations for President Barack Obama’s inaugural visit to China next week.

“The government took away our ability to work…to help the people achieve their rights” Beijing lawyer surnamed Xie* (pronounced Syeah) said as he explained the recent disbarment of over 20 weiquan lawyers from practicing law in China.  While acknowledging that the Chinese Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which controls all bar associations in China, has the right to initiate procedures to discipline poorly-behaved attorneys, Xie countered “here, they didn’t even follow their own procedures….Because we did nothing wrong, they [the government] couldn’t use the procedures…instead, they used pressure on our law firms and other secretive means to punish us weiquan lawyers.  This is becoming more common.”

To say that public interest law in China is a small, burgeoning field is an understatement.  Only a handful of lawyers take on the cases of the most weak and vulnerable of Chinese society, and in a country of close to 1.4 billion people, there are a lot of these cases.  These are the cases on behalf of parents who lost their only child in the Sichuan earthquake and who want justice from the local government for shoddy school construction; or cases that seek to protect the rights of

Weiquan Activist, Hu Jia

Weiquan Activist, Hu Jia

members of Falun Gong to practice their religion, a right guaranteed under the Chinese Constitution; and cases as simple as protecting individuals infected with HIV or AIDS from discrimination.  While these lawsuits can all legally be brought under Chinese law, politically they are dangerous.  And the weiquan lawyers who bring these cases, cases that the Chinese government sees as upsetting their narrative of a “harmonious society,” subject themselves to harassment, disbarment, and, in the case of Hu Jia (pronounced Who Gee-ah), prison time.

These weiquan lawyers want President Obama, a fellow public interest attorney and Noble Peace Prize recipient, to acknowledge the importance of their struggle when he comes to Beijing.  “I don’t have great hope [for the visit]” attorney Liu* (pronounced Leo) admitted “but it is important for him [President Obama] to say something.”

“When Clinton and Pelosi came to China, they spoke little of human rights” Beijing lawyer Tang*, who was detained by police for a few days this past June, noted.  “But I want Obama to speak more about these issues.”

“President Obama and the U.S. government shouldn’t just look at today’s China, but where China will be in the future” Xie said “they need to look at the Chinese people’s hopes and their changing state of mind.”

President Obama and many who are traveling with him to China, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, know all too well the importance of public interest lawyers in guaranteeing that the laws on the books are a reality for society’s most vulnerable.  Upon law school graduation President Obama returned to Chicago to help the poor and least represented achieve their legally-entitled rights.  As first lady of Arkansas, Secretary Clinton co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families and was the chair of the Legal Services Corporation.

In many ways, the difficulties that President Obama and Secretary Clinton surely faced as public interest lawyers are not unlike those of the weiquan attorneys in China – financially powerful adversaries, clients with little to no voice in society, and never-ending work with limited resources.  But there is one additional factor that neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton had to contend with as public interest attorneys in the U.S. – their government shutting down public interest organizations in order to squelch their missions as well as the entire public interest movement itself.

Because of this and because they are colleagues of these weiquan lawyers, during next week’s visit, President Obama or Secretary Clinton needs to publicly acknowledge the increasingly difficult challenges faced by China’s weiquan lawyers and stress the benefits a flourishing public interest law movement can bring to China.

The importance of U.S. opinion to these weiquan lawyers cannot be overstated.  “America still serves as a model for human rights….it’s their duty to say something” Tang implored.  Like many Americans, I have often read about the beacon of hope that the U.S. provides to rights activists abroad.  But it wasn’t until last Friday, in talking to people ostracized by their own government for doing what they believe in, that I began to understand the significance of U.S. moral authority and the tangible dependence of activists abroad on it.

The U.S. is currently experiencing a great deal of self-doubt – our economy is tattered, we are in the midst of what appears to be two never-ending wars, our political parties can’t seem to cooperate to get anything done, and to get out of some of these problems we appear dependent on China.  But Tang is right – we should not shrink from the responsibilities of our ideals.  If President Obama, who likely best understands the importance of rhetoric in defining a movement, does not say something on behalf of these weiquan lawyers, then who will?

Our relationship with China is between two nations, between two peoples, not just between two governments.  The weiquan lawyers, and the poor and vulnerable people that they represent, are an indelible part of the Chinese people.  Certainly the Chinese government, and maybe even many of the Chinese people, would prefer that President Obama not acknowledge this, but there are many in China that hope he does.  I don’t pretend to know exactly how President Obama should walk the fine line between encouraging these weiquan lawyers and not outright offending the Chinese government and other sections of the Chinese public.  The weiquan lawyers I met with would like him or someone in the Administration to meet with one of the lawyers.  Others have called on the President to request the release of weiquan activists like Hu Jia.  I think at the very least President Obama should acknowledge these weiquan lawyers in a public statement to the Chinese people and encourage the continued growth of China’s public interest law movement in order to make the ideals of China’s law a reality for 1.4 billion people.

* The lawyers requested that only their last names be used in order to protect their identities.

What to Expect from President Obama’s Visit to China – A Primer

By , November 3, 2009

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Obama & Hu share the stage in Pittsburgh.  Soon it will be Beijing.

Obama & Hu share the stage in Pittsburgh. Soon it will be Beijing.

President Obama will visit China, his first trip to the country, from November 15 through the 18.  Although his visit is less than two weeks away, the question remains – what will be on the agenda for his three days in China.  While the White House has yet to release President Obama’s schedule, expect President Obama and President Hu Jintao (pronounced Who Gin-tao) to discuss military ties, global economic health, climate change and human rights.  

(1)   Improved US-China Military Relations – Let’s Hope

While U.S.-China economic ties bring the two nations into alignment on various issues, military-to-military relations remain dangerously tense.  President George W. Bush realized this early on in his presidency after a U.S. spy plane crashed with a Chinese military jet and was then forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island in China.  For a few days, it was unclear what the Chinese military would do with the captured U.S. pilots, leading to the acknowledgement that better communication between the two militaries was necessary.  

President Obama has already had a taste of the danger of weak military ties this past March, when five Chinese naval vessels circled and threatened a U.S. navy ship in international waters, 75 miles off of Hainan Island.  

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is largely to blame for the lack of communication between the two militaries.  Historically, the PLA has remained secretive about its military development and has usually refrained from military-to-military relations with other countries, although that is slowly changing.  While the Clinton Administration made some headway, at least on paper with the signing of the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA), suspicion between the two militaries has remained high and there are no procedures in place for each country’s military to follow should unexpected events occur.   The U.S.’ military agreements with all other countries, including Russia, contain provisions to deal with emergency incidents to prevent their escalation.

As an emerging superpower and already a regional one, minor military incidents with China will likely continue to

Xu Caihou & Robert Gates - maintaining close ties?

Xu Caihou & Robert Gates - maintaining close ties?

occur, especially as China rapidly expands its military spending and build-up. Without better communication, these incidents can easily turn to major crises.  The Obama Administration appears to recognize this danger.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates just concluded a meeting with Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), Xu Caihou (pronounced Sue Tsai-ho) in Washington, D.C. after Mr. Xu spent a week in the U.S. viewing U.S.  military bases and meeting with other military leaders. 

Securing a better understanding between the two nations’ militaries would be no small feat.  The PLA remains a very powerful, and largely independent, force within the Chinese government and President Hu Jintao’s control over the organization remains questionable (see Susan Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower, p. 73).  But it appears that President Obama, especially after the March 2009 incident in the South China Sea, recognizes the importance of pushing China forward to secure better military ties.  However, anticipate that China will raise the issue of U.S. arm sales to Taiwan, and may very well use that as a bargaining chip for better U.S.-China military relations. 

(2)   Coordination on the Global Economic Crisis – Tow Superpowers Tied Together

To make it through the current global economic crisis, China needs the U.S. and the U.S. needs China.  While China’s stimulus package has taken hold quicker then its American counter-part, China’s future is still largely dependent on the U.S.’ success.  Last year, China surpassed Japan as the largest holder of U.S. Treasuries, holding approximately $800 billion (25% of total U.S. Treasuries); this amount accounts for approximately 40% of China’s foreign reserves.  In order for the U.S. to continue to fund its stimulus, it needs China to continue to purchase U.S. Treasuries.  But at the same time, China right now has no choice but to hold the treasuries, intertwining China with the future of the U.S. economy. 

Because of this arrangement, expect China to scold the U.S. on its increasingly high levels of debt.  This though is more for the domestic Chinese market than actually for U.S. policy makers.  The Chinese government’s hands are tied – it cannot sell off their Treasuries; its act of selling would inevitably cause market to decrease the price of U.S. Treasuries while China is attempting to sell.  But it still has to show the Chinese people that it is doing something. 

On the U.S. side, anticipate the issue of currency manipulation to be raised but not to be discussed in-depth.  Commerce Secretary Gary Locke raised the issue on his trip to Guangzhou last week, a surprise since currency has not been a high priority as of late.  However, for certain U.S. industries, such as the steel industry, China’s currency policy remains a viable issue. 

In terms of trade issues, such as the recent U.S. tariffs on tires and Chinese threats to slap tariffs on certain U.S. imports in response, expect some discussion.  But largely, this “trade war” has become much less of a problem.

Instead, U.S.-China discussions on the economy will likely entail how U.S. and Chinese companies can continue to work together.    

(3)   Climate Change & Copenhagen – “I’ll Go If You Go”

Do not expect much in terms of climate change.  Todd Stern, the Administration’s special envoy on the issue, announced last week that a bi-lateral agreement is not likely to emerge from President Obama’s and President Hu’s discussions on climate change.  Instead, the heads of state of the two leading emitters of greenhouse gases are hoping to reach “a common understanding.” 

Anticipate that a “common understanding” will involve a discussion of financial and technical assistance to China to help combat climate change.  As of the U.N. General Assembly in September, the U.S. and China do not see eye-to-eye on this issue.  While the European Union has pledged to provide financial assistance to developing countries, including China, the Obama Administration has yet to agree to such assistance to China.  However, it is this issue that the U.S. should attempt to parlay into actual emission targets from China. 

In terms of greater technical assistance, expect President Obama to ask for more protection of intellectual property and actual enforcement of the law in China, an issue Commerce Secretary Gary Locke recently raised on his October 2009 trip to China. 

Finally, the success of the Obama-Hu talks on climate change will determine whether either leader will join the rest of the world in Copenhagen in December.  This is pretty much a package deal; if the U.S. and China reach a “common understanding,” expect both Obama and Hu to attend Copenhagen.  If they do not, expect both to be watching it on T.V. from home. 

(4)   Human Rights & Rule of Law – This is Where the Surprise will Lie

Whether President Obama brings up the issue of human rights is currently the big “if” of his visit.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received tremendous backlash, both at home and internationally, when she heavily implied that the U.S. would not press China on human rights at the expense of other issues. 

However, during Ambassador Huntsman’s Senate confirmation hearing, he repeatedly stressed the importance of a continuous dialogue with China on human rights.  Furthermore, the release of activist-attorney Xu Zhiyong upon Ambassador Huntsman’s arrival to Beijing is likely a reflection of pressure from high up in the Administration (Xu Zhiyong ‘s organization received financial support from Yale University, Secretary Clinton’s alma mater).  But more than anything else, Xu Zhiyong’s detention made apparent to the Administration the important role that the U.S. still plays to many of these Chinese human rights activists; the U.S. still serves as their beacon of hope, and often gives these activists the courage to push forward when many in their country and their government work against them. 

Will President Obama make public comments about human rights?  Expect something.  Likely though, the issue of human rights will be painted as one of “rule of law.”  Recently, a group of Chinese lawyers convened a press conference in China imploring President Obama to raise the issue of human rights but in terms of their ability to bring cases in court concerning religious freedom and human rights.  Additionally, the Xu Zhiyong case showed the still arbitrary nature of the Chinese justice system.

Obama Before the Crowds in Germany.  Will it be the same in China?

Obama Before the Crowds in Germany. Will it be the same in China?

In Beijing, rumors abound on whether President Obama, like his Democratic predecessor President Bill Clinton, will speak at one of the many universities in the capital.  President Clinton’s speech at Peking University was historic, impressive and broadcasted to the Chinese people; the capital essentially stood still while he spoke.  Given President Obama’s panache for large-scale, media-friendly events, it is very likely that Chinese officials will allow a speech to the Chinese people.  However, will the Chinese state-controlled media appropriately translate President Obama’s speech remains to be seen.  Even President Obama’s inaugural speech, which never even mentioned China, was partially censored.

Steve Wolfson on the Need for U.S.-China Cooperation to Battle Climate Change

By , October 7, 2009

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is exactly two months away but has China and the U.S. made any headway in coming to terms with their differences on the climate change front?  In a new article published in the Tsinghua China Law Review,  senior attorney at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Steve Wolfson offers a positive outlook on negotiations with recommendations on how the U.S. and China can move forward to reach a meaningful climate change agreement.

In “Gathering Momentum for U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change”  Wolfson reviews the issues that have plagued climate change negotiations between the U.S. and China and the progress that has been made:

  • A Developed Country or a Developing Country? – China puts itself squarely in the developing nation category.  Developing nations were exempt from greenhouse gas emission targets for the Kyoto Protocol and will likely be again for the Copenhagen agreement.  But is China a developing country in the way that Cambodia or Ghana is?  Arguably no and given the fact that China surpassed the U.S. in 2007 for greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. and other developed countries should push China forward in agreeing to some type of targets.
  • Historic Responsibilities of the Western World – China rightfully claims that the planet’s current climate change crisis is a result of the centuries of development in the Western world.  China’s current development over the past 20 years has not caused the current crisis.  But the Western countries argue that, unless it limits its greenhouse gas emissions and works on its energy efficiency, China’s future development is what will make the present crisis into a death sentence for the world.  However, as Wolfson points out, there has been some movement by the U.S.  When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited China in February, she acknowledged the special responsibility of the U.S. due to its role as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases.  In his speech before the U.N. two weeks ago, President Obama also admitted to the historic differences between the U.S. and China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • China’s Positive Progress on Controlling Carbon Emissions – Wolfson analyzes the various laws that China has passed to curb its greenhouse gas emissions and increase its energy efficiency.  He also takes note of China’s various initiatives to restructure its economy to improve its efficiency and reduce its emissions.

While Wolfson’s article offers much hope for U.S.-China progress on the eve of Copenhagen, he concludes on a slightly somber note, remarking on China’s inability to implement many of its national laws on the local level.  This is a problem that permeates all of Chinese society: the the Sanlu milk powder scandal last year, the recent and wide-spread lead poisoning  of children in villages that boarder factories, the importation of toys laced with lead from China; school buildings that do not withstand an earthquake; these are all examples of a regulatory system that fails on the local level.

China is sincere in its desire to be a leader in clean technology and to clean up its environment.  But its problem now is implementing any agreement that comes out of Copenhagen, and this is not because China does not want to; it is because China does not know how.

We at China Law & Policy have recommended in past posts and continue to recommend that U.S. policy makers seize the opportunity that Copenhagen offers to assist China with its legal development in the regulatory field.  Copenhagen should not just be about agreeing to targets; an agreement from Copenhagen should also include the U.S.’ commitment to provide resources on implementation and governance, knowledge exchanges between U.S. environmental regulators and Chinese environmental regulators, and an open-mindedness that it is going to take China some time to establish an effective regulatory scheme.  By assisting China with its regulatory development, the U.S. will not only make headways in establishing a greater sense of rule of law but could potentially benefit the lives of 1.3 billion people in a very real and tangible way.  Wolfson’s article reminds us of this.

Click here to Read Steve Wolfson’s Gathering Momentum for U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change.

The U.S. & China on Climate Change at the U.N. General Assembly

By , September 24, 2009

un_symbolThis past week the U.N. General Assembly in New York was filled with wave after wave of speeches and meetings dedicated to limiting global climate change.  With the December Copenhagen conference less than three months away, the question remains – has there been any progress?

On Tuesday, September 22, both President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao (pronounced Who Jin-Dao) separately addressed the General Assembly, each discussing their country’s commitment to a global climate change agreement.   Their rhetoric was considerably more conciliatory, signaling that perhaps the two largest polluters of greenhouse gases are finding common ground.  The substance of their speeches though, indicated that there still remains a large division between these two critical countries.

Conciliatory Rhetoric

This past summer saw many important countries digging in their heels on climate change.  In July and August, both China and India adamantly stated that they would not agree to any type of defined targets that would limit their greenhouse gas emissions.  In June, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill which received notable criticism from both sides of the aisle upon its passage, questioning the bill’s ability to pass the Senate.

But on Tuesday, President Barack Obama reinforced his Administration’s commitment to limit greenhouse gases, indicating his willingness to push his Democratic colleagues in the Senate to pass a climate change bill.  In response to the E.U.’s recent promise to assist developing nations both financially and technically in battling climate change, President Obama also committed the U.S. to help.

President Hu Jintao’s speech was heralded as a huge step forward for the Chinese.  President Hu affirmed his country’s

President Hu Jintao speaking to the U.N General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept 22, 2009

President Hu Jintao speaking to the U.N General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept 22, 2009

promise to tackle climate change and surprisingly mentioned China’s “mandatory national targets for reducing energy intensity and discharge of major pollutants…”

India also seems to be moving in the direction of targets.  In an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh discussed the possibility that India could adopt legislation increasing its energy efficiency and thus having “implicit targets.”

Divisions That Could Hamper an Agreement in Copenhagen

Target: What is in a Word?
The press has largely been positive to President Hu’s discussion of “mandatory national targets for reducing energy intensity,” heralding such a step as China’s “first commitment to climate change targets” and that China “pledges to lead effort to combat climate change.

While it is true that this is a step forward for the Chinese – never before have they used the word “target” in reference to climate change on the world stage – in no way is this a “carbon emissions target.”  In fact, China has been using “energy efficiency targets” domestically since 2005.  As John Romankiewicz explained on the Green Leap Forward, in China’s 11th Five Year Plan passed in 2005, the Chinese government established a 20% reduction target in energy intensity from 2006 to 2010.  While this is a laudable goal, it still allows China to increase its carbon emissions since there is no cap – the calculation is relative to the percentage growth of GDP.

China’s goal is to cut energy intensity as a percentage of its GDP.  If GDP rises, a rise in energy use, as long as it is lower than the previous year, can still show a reduction in energy efficiency.  For example, China’s National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) noted that a 4% rise in energy consumption in 2008, matched with a 9% increase in GDP for that year, resulted in a 4.2% decrease in energy intensity from the previous year (see Green Leap Forward).

Additionally, a focus on energy intensity only marginally impacts carbon emissions, a fact not lost on President Hu in his speech on Tuesday.  After committing China to set targets to reduce its energy intensity, President Hu vaguely addressed carbon emissions by noting that China will “endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions [inaudible in original speech but likely “as a percentage of”] GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level.”

China has certainly taken a step forward on approaching some form of targets.  Furthermore, by even mentioning targets, China implicitly commits to making those targets measurable and verifiable as Julian L. Wong from the Center for American Progress noted, something that China in the past was not willing to do.  So there has been progress which China should be rightly commended for.  But at this stage, to limit global warming to the U.N. target of 2º Celsius, the world community needs to push China to agree to carbon emissions targets.

Obama Adverse to China Being Defined as a Developing Nation?
Central to the requirement of carbon targets is the definition of “developing nation” and this was perhaps the greatest divide between the U.S. and China, and could possibly stall progress in Copenhagen.

For purposes of climate change negotiations, China has repeatedly portrayed itself as a developing country.  In his speech on Tuesday, President Hu dedicated around two-thirds of it to discussing the special circumstances of developing countries, implying that China is one such nation.

Under the previous international climate change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, China was defined as a developing nation.  China is keen to keep this definition in Copenhagen for two reasons: (1) emission targets are not applicable to developing nations, and (2) developing nations can avail themselves of financial and technical aid provided by developed nations.

It is the second reason that appears to be more important to the Chinese.  In prior climate change negotiation simulations that global power participate in as practice for Copenhagen, the Chinese representatives do not budge unless there is an offer of technical or financial assistance from other countries like the U.S. or the E.U.  President Hu’s speech reiterated the importance of such assistance to the Chinese: “developed countries should take up their responsibility and provide new, additional, adequate and predictable financial support to developing countries…”

President Obama wholeheartedly agreed with President Hu’s sentiment to assist developing nations.  However, he

President Barack Obama before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

President Barack Obama before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

appeared to disagree with President Hu that China is such a country.  In his speech before the U.N., President Obama put China and the U.S. on the same level in assisting developing countries: “These [developing] nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do…” (emphasis added).

This division between the two countries regarding the developmental status of China could do one of two things: (a) completely derail any agreement in Copenhagen that includes both the U.S. and China, or (b) provide the compromise necessary to have the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases agree to a climate change agreement.  U.S. policy makers should look to the latter.  Agreeing to provide financial and technical assistance to China might just be the push necessary to get it to agree to carbon emission targets, a necessary goal to limit global climate change.

For a transcript of President Barack Obama’s address to the U.N., click here.

For a transcript of President Hu Jintao’s address to the U.N., click here.

Administration’s Debreifing of Hu Jintao & Barack Obama Meeting

By , September 23, 2009

Subsequent to Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao’s meeting, Administration officials met with the press to answer questions regarding what was discussed between the two. Below is a transcript of that Q&A session. Stayed tuned to China Law & Policy as we delve deeper into some of the issues raised during the two Presidents’ meeting.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release September 22, 2009
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY
A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
ON THE PRESIDENT’S MEETING WITH PRESIDENT HU OF CHINAPress Filing Center
Waldorf Astoria

New York, New York
6:00 P.M. EDT

MR. HAMMER: Good late afternoon. We’re going to do one more readout for today, and I know there’s a conference call beginning in about 15 minutes. So that’s the window that we have. We have a senior administration official who will brief on the President’s just concluded meeting with the Chinese President Hu.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. The President had an hour-and-a-half meeting with President Hu. It had been scheduled for an hour. The meeting I would describe as friendly, warm. It’s the second time the two have met. They’ve spoken often on the phone. It reflects the fact they’ve had many conversations and they’ve now become easy and comfortable with each other. It was a conversation; it was not simply a presentation of talking points on the two sides.

The emphasis was upon common interests, how far we’ve come in building the relationship, opportunities that we have to build the relationship further, discussion about how the President’s trip to China later this year could fit in with that objective, candid discussion of differences.

The principal topics that were discussed were North Korea, Iran, climate change, and global economic recovery and bilateral — the bilateral economic and trade relationship. I think I’ll leave it there and open it up to questions.

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Remarks from Pre-Meeting of Presidents Barak Obama & Hu Jintao

By , September 23, 2009

Today, after the U.N. General Assembly meeting, Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao met for a one-on-one meeting to discuss issues pertaining to the U.S.-China relationship.  Although the meeting was off the record, below is the official transcript of their remarks prior to their private discussion.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                        September 22, 2009

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA

AND CHINESE PRESIDENT HU JINTAO

BEFORE MEETING

Waldorf Astoria Hotel

New York, New York

3:47 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We welcome your delegation to New York.  I’m sorry that I didn’t have a chance to see you in L’Aquila, but your Councilor Dai did an excellent job representing your country.

I also have to say that I enjoyed seeing Vice Premier Wang as well as Councilor Dai at the SED meeting.  And Vice President Biden and I both had excellent meetings with Chairman Wu two weeks ago in the White House.  I should also mention that Vice Premier Wang showed me his jump shot, which is excellent.  (Laughter.)  How do you say “basketball shot” in Chinese?  (Laughter.)

Continue reading 'Remarks from Pre-Meeting of Presidents Barak Obama & Hu Jintao'»

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