Sublime and Beautiful

Make Nice, Your People Need You

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on April 5, 2009

After watching the London G20 Summit last week, it is quite clear that the national leaders in attendance were carefully abiding by an unspoken rule: we came here to fix the economy…so be nice.

With a spirit of congeniality pervading the summit, Obama and the American delegation were able to discuss contentious issues with their Chinese and Russian counterparts without hitting any sticking points. In an April 1 meeting on the sidelines of the summit, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev touched on some topics that have strained U.S.-Russia relations in recent years including Iran, North Korea, Georgia, and U.S. plans for missile defense installations in Europe. Nothing major came of these discussions. And, as was the case with the Georgia and missile defense issues, on some things the two leaders had to agree to disagree.

Courtesy of China Daily

Despite the lack of earthshaking progress, the meeting between Obama and Medvedev did produce an agreement on general U.S.-Russia relations and a joint statement agreeing to bilateral intergovernmental negotiations to work out a new, more comprehensive replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). In the new treaty, the Russians and the Americans are seeking to reduce the number of offensive strategic arms of both countries below the levels stipulated in the 2002 Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions. Also, the two parties expressed their intentions to include verification measures in the new treaty.

The successes of Obama’s first meeting with the Russian president, modest as they were, set the foundation for future negotiations. More than anything else, the meeting seems to have been aimed at “resetting” U.S.-Russia relations. A senior administration official speaking after the meeting between the two presidents drew attention to the apparent warming of relations between the U.S. and Russia by pointing back to the tensions that arose from the Georgia crisis: “I want to remind you also where we were six months ago when we talked about the relations being at a lowest point since Cold War times.” Clearly Obama and his delegation weren’t expecting miracle diplomacy on the sidelines of the G20. In very pragmatic fashion Obama treated the summit as an opportunity to make a positive first impression on his fellow leaders while introducing his agenda and searching for common ground on which to build.

Obama handled his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in much the same way as he did his meeting with Medvedev. He stated his government’s position on Tibet and expressed his concern about human rights. The one subject of discussion that was curiously absent from Obama’s talk with Hu was currency–a topic that has gotten a lot of press for comments made by both Chinese and American officials. Similar to Obama’s meeting with Medvedev, the meeting with Hu was relatively uneventful, producing a new name for the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialog (i.e. the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialog) and an invitation for Obama to visit China.

What is notable about both Obama’s meeting with Hu and Medvedev is how unimportant the huge issues he discussed seemed. Just last summer, stories about Tibet, China’s human rights issues, and the possibility of world leaders boycotting the Beijng Olympics ran constantly in the media. Only a few months ago conflict in Georgia looked like it might send Russia and the U.S. back into Cold War mode. Now, at the G20 summit, presidential-level discussions of these issues seemed like quaint sideshows.

Everyone at the summit appeared to be determined not to lose sight of the urgent issue at hand. Where once politicians might have butted heads on matters deemed vital to national pride or national security, at the summit no one seemed willing to get their pulse up over anything not related to the economic crisis. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who upset Chinese officials by meeting with the Dalai Lama in Poland last December, and his delegation made amends with China by issuing a joint statement with the Chinese reaffirming the French government’s adherence to the one-China policy. Thus, a France-China conflict that had simmered since the Paris-leg of the Olympic torch relay was disrupted by protesters last spring, was put to rest.

Surely global politics have not changed for ever. One day talks of missile shields and human rights will cause politicians’ tempers to flare and dialogues to break down again. Sometime in the future outraged leaders will storm out of a summit meeting declaring their disgust with the course that discussions are taking. But, for the time being, the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries appear to be trying their best to prioritize and deal with the most serious economic crisis in generations.


One Response

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  1. Crispus said, on April 6, 2009 at 4:16 am

    Chaoren, or do I call you Superman?

    Very nice and slick writing. China’s propaganda has been taken up a notch or two with your blog. Good job. It is nice to read intelligent stuff without the fractured English to wade through.

    It would be nice if you can disclose who you are and where you are.

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