Martin Schram, Tribune News Service
From the earth-shaking way the breaking news was reported on Wednesday, many may have thought the world had suddenly tilted — and its axis now runs directly through Glasgow, Scotland.
“The United States and China jolted the United Nations climate summit here with a surprise announcement on Wednesday, pledging the two countries would work together to slow global warming during this decade and ensure that the Glasgow talks result in meaningful progress,” The Washington Post breathlessly reported.
And The New York Times noted in its second paragraph: “The pact between the world’s two biggest polluters came as a surprise to the thousands of attendees gathered here for a United Nations climate summit… China committed for the first time to reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”
But, of course, you probably weren’t really shocked, since we know by your reading habits that you are obviously one who keeps well informed. And you certainly weren’t jolted if you happened to read a column I wrote a couple of weeks ago, urging China’s President Xi Jinping to suspend his strong-arm actions reminiscent of the adversarial Cold War era — and rethink his refusal to go to the Glasgow climate conference.
“A world leader cannot lead when he is a no-show,” I wrote. “An emerging economic and military superpower cannot achieve greatness without freeing his nation from the remnants of its Cold War way. ... President Xi, let this be your ‘Man on the Moon Moment.’ Lead the world by landing a man in Glasgow — you! … Sign on as a co-leader and for once earn the world’s respect… Let China truly help win our World War to defeat greenhouse gases — and save our planet.”
And lo, it came to pass. Well, de facto. President Xi made sure the power of his presence was felt by dispatching his un-retiring climate change emissary, Xie Zhenhua, and giving him the authority to convey China’s co-leadership designs in talks with President Joe Biden’s emissary, John Kerry. Wednesday, at an unannounced news event, Xie spoke first:
“We both see the challenge of climate change is existential and a severe one. As two major powers in the world, China and the United States, we need to take our due responsibility and work together and work with others in the spirit of cooperation to address climate change.”
So why did China’s President Xi decide to emerge at this moment from his Cold Warrior cocoon — where he oversaw the initial COVID-19 silence that became our global pandemic and his economic and military excesses — and seem to present himself as a global co-leader?
Not because of anything I typed. Having twirled in the Washington window during my years of covering the presidency for The Washington Post, I am under no illusion that an op-ed moves shakers or shakes movers in global politics.
But I know that global forces — especially forces of the global economy — can move and shake even an authoritarian who covets levers of global economic leadership.
And here I will share the identity of my journalistic source with my friends at The New York Times: Pick up the dead-tree print edition of your New York Times that has on Page 1 the big news about the “surprise” announcement in Glasgow by the United States and China. Turn to your newspaper’s Page 4 — there it is, stretched across the top of the page, beneath the headline: “Wary of an Authoritarian China, Europe Warms Up to Taiwan.”
Excellent enterprise reporting by Times correspondents Amy Qin and Steven Erlanger laid out the economic foundation of a geopolitical reality that was certainly powerful enough to get Xi’s attention. And influence him to the point of moving and shaking him to do the thing that has the added virtue of helping the entire planet.
“European nations had long kept Taiwan at arm’s length, wary of provoking Beijing, which opposes contact with the island it claims as its territory,” The Times reported.
“But an unusual flurry of diplomatic activity suggests a subtle shift may be underway in Europe, driven in part by the region’s growing frustration over China’s aggressive posture.” The article reported that Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu had recently travelled to Europe on a “charm offensive.” Then European leaders reciprocated. The Times reported that “China’s increasingly assertive brand of authoritarianism under its leader, Xi Jinping, has fed distrust, and some distaste, too.”
Xi did not personally come to Glasgow. But he’s there, performing and (we hope!) producing in Glasgow’s global spotlight. With our planet in peril, we need him to become worthy of his inherent clout. We need him in our global spotlight. After all, we know where our global bulb was made.
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