Reaching an Ultimatum (Part II)

Could future climate change negotiations between the United States and China take a turn for the worse?

December 28, 2009

Could future climate change negotiations between the United States and China take a turn for the worse?

Tuesday, August 23 — Eidsvoll, outside Oslo, Norway

Larry Olsen was expecting Premier Zhai or Foreign Minister Chou. But when the door opened, it was Ding Jiahui who walked in.

The arrangement was that a senior government official from each side would sign the preliminary agreement in Oslo. The two presidents would then simultaneously announce the deal in public at an agreed time, and later meet at a summit to sign the final agreement.
Olsen shook Ding’s hand.

“I’m glad to see you again, Minister,” he said.

Ding responded in Mandarin, even though his English was flawless. He had brought his own interpreter with him. He was immaculately dressed as always. Larry Olsen was wearing a much-used and crumpled suit.

“I take it you have President Wen’s authority to sign on behaif of the government of the People’s Republic,” said Olsen.

The interpreter murmured needlessly in Ding’s ear. Ding nodded.

“I have President Benton’s authority.” Olsen smiled. “You’d better look this over to make sure we haven’t tried to pull a fast one.”

Ding began to scan the pages. First the Mandarin version, then he turned to the English.

At length Ding was finished. He looked up, “We okay?” asked Olsen.

Ding smiled pleasantly and said something. The interpreter spoke.

“There is no recognition here of the historical responsibility of the United States.”

“The United States isn’t admitting any,” said Olsen.

“There must be recognition of the historical responsibility.” Ding gazed at Olsen as the interpreter translated.

Olsen glanced at Lisle. Lisle shook his head slightly but emphatically.

“Minister Ding,” said Olsen, “this is the agreement. Mr. Lisle, this is the text that was agreed, correct?”

“It is, Mr. Secretary.”

“Mr. Lin?”

Lin glanced at Ding.

“Well, I think you’ll find that Mr. Lin and Mr. Gao’s intials are on this draft.”

Ding pushed the paper back across the table toward Olsen. “There must be recognition of the historical responsibility.”

Ding paused. “Five percent of the world’s population, 25% of its emissions. For so many years. There must be a recognition of this.”

“Why didn’t your people say this before?”

There was no answer from the other side of the table. Ding continued to gaze at Olsen. Gao watched stony-faced, as if it had nothing to do with him. Lin avoided Pete Lisle’s eyes. Lisle wondered whether he had known this was going to happen.

“Minister Ding, can you give us a moment?” said Olsen. “Certainly,” replied Ding.

Olsen got up, taking his copy of the memorandum. Lisle and Wu went with him into the corridor outside the room. A man from the Norwegian foreign ministry was waiting there in case they needed anything. Olsen smiled at him briefly, and they went further along the corridor.
“What is he doing?” hissed Olsen. Lisle shook his head. “I have no idea.”

“What does he want?”

“I don’t know,” whispered Lisle. “Historical responsibility. I don’t know what he wants.”

“He knows we’re not negotiating here, right? He knows this is a done deal?”

“They know.”

Olsen looked at Wu.

“No question,” said Wu.

“Maybe we can find a form of words,” said Lisle.

Olsen shook his head. He shot a glance at Wu. Then he shook his head again. “All right, let’s go back. Pete, I’ll let you do the talking. We’re not admitting historical responsibility, whatever he thinks he means by that.

“But if we can craft something today, and if the president agrees…” Olsen’s expression showed how repugnant he found the situation. “This is outrageous!”

They trooped back past the Norwegian official into the room. Ding was still sitting on the other side of the table, flanked by his interpreter, Lin and Gao.

“Minister Ding,” said Lisle, “this agreement was drafted and agreed as it appears, so we are extremely surprised that you have raised the question of historical responsibility today.”

Lisle paused. Ding watched him impassively.

“The United States believes this should be a forward-looking agreement between our two countries. Dwelling on the past is unhelpful.” Lisle paused again. “However, it may be possible that we can find a way to put this agreement into its historical context.

“We could expand the preamble slightly, perhaps, and find a form of words that would satisfy your desire without compromising the strong spirit of friendship in which this agreement was written. Would that be a way forward for us?”

Ding nodded and said something in Mandarin. “Words are not sufficient,” said the interpreter beside him.

“Excuse me?” said Lisle.

“One does not feed the people on words, Mr. Lisle. One does not replace the house a man has lost in the flood. With words, one does not remove from the sky the gases your country has pumped into the air for the past 50 years.”

“Although your country has been the biggest emitter for the last 25 of those years,” said Olsen, unable to contain himself.

“Five percent of the population, 25% of the emission,” repeated Ding. “For so many years.”

“If you want to quote numbers,” retorted Olsen impulsively, “things have changed a little. You guys are sitting on 40% of the world’s emissions for a quarter of the population. So right now when you’re saying that, Minister Ding, you’re sitting in a big, fat house of glass.”

Ding smiled. “You want our cheap manufactures, the emissions are the result. These are still your emissions, Secretary, they just happen to be taking place in China.”

“Jesus Christ!” hissed Olsen, almost unable to contain himself. “Now I’ve heard it all.”

“This is only one part. Historical injustices and divisions must be repaired.”

There was silence. Ding gazed meaningfully at Olsen. Now Olsen knew what this was about. At last, they had got to it. “Historical injustices and divisions.”

In Chinese government-speak, that was code for only one thing. Ding was holding the emissions agreement hostage to it.

Editors Note: This excerpt is a work of fiction from the book “Ultimatum.” © 2009 by Matthew Glass, reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

Read Part I here.

Takeaways

Ding pushed the paper back across the table toward Olsen. "There must be recognition of the historical responsibility."

"The United States believes this should be a forward-looking agreement between our two countries. Dwelling on the past is unhelpful."

"You want our cheap manufactures, the emissions are the result. These are still your emissions, Secretary, they just happen to be taking place in China."

Ding responded in Mandarin, even though his English was flawless. He had brought his own interpreter with him.