I attended the just completed weekend conference in Boao, at a nice, tropical waterfront resort here on Hainan Island. Boao is China’s Davos—or wishes to be, anyway—and this year President Hu Jintao attended, along with (among others) the Presidents or Prime Ministers from Sweden, Mongolia, Australia, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Tonga and Pakistan. (Pervez Musharraf looked delighted to be out of Islamabad, however briefly. He also remains, second only perhaps to George Bush himself, the most intriguing figure among those who have waged “the global war on terror” since September 11, 2001. CIA director Gen. Mike Hayden in an interview a couple of weeks ago said that the truce Musharraf declared with the Taliban in the Northwest territories a couple of years ago was “a disaster.” A little later, in the same interview, he said that Pakistan had been the US’s most important ally in the war on terror. From an American perspective, trying to square that circle—and believe me, there will be plenty of after the fact books written about this—is what makes Musharraf, whose days, of course are numbered, such an intriguing figure.)
I digress. The theme of the conference was, alas, “Green Asia,” and what a “win-win” proposition it is to turn Asia “green.”
The reason I write `alas’ is that I don’t believe dealing with “climate change” is the cost free, job creating economic Wonderama that the Al Gores of the world make believe it is. (By the way, the alleged world threatening crisis is no longer called “global warming” because the globe’s temperature hasn’t been cooperating of late, so, shrewdly, environmentalists have latched onto “climate change” as the mantra of the moment, so any time it’s colder or warmer than it’s supposed to be anywhere on the globe the environmental lobby can blame it on the bad people who consume lots of oil and coal. ) As expected, at Boao, almost all the national leaders made speeches that genuflected at the altar of “climate change,” earnestly pledging their most heartfelt efforts to deal with the issue, etc etc.
All of the leaders, that is, except this one guy named…Hu Jintao. The host of the Boao summit, the leader of the world’s most populous, most rapidly growing nation—the nation that last year according to some estimates became the world’s most prolific spewer of CO2 into the atmosphere—gave a speech that actually was pretty important. It’s fairly rare, after all, that China’s top leader speaks before large, multinational forums. And no, he didn’t talk about Tibet (at all) or the Olympics (except in passing). But he did, in no uncertain terms, reinforce China’s intention to further and deepen economic “reforms and openness,” carrying on “the revolution” (his words) that Deng Xiaoping began 30 years ago.
This may seem like a banality, but believe me, it’s not. The infighting and rear guard actions within China over economic policy are as intense as it gets—no one gives up sinecures, whether state owned or otherwise, in any country easily, and in a place that’s as non transparent and (let’s be frank) as corrupt as this, it is doubly difficult. President Hu’s speech was emphatic, and the foreign businessmen in the crowd were very, very happy—as they should have been.
Well, most of the foreign businessmen. There were some in the audience who are part of the still small, but rapidly growing business of selling “green technology” in China, and they were dumbfounded. Hu mentioned “climate change” all of twice in a lengthy speech, most prominently in a checklist of actions China needs to take with other Asian nations over the next few years. To be precise, it was third on his checklist, just ahead of pan Asian “water conservation” efforts, but just behind—I repeat, BEHIND– cooperating on “disaster prevention and reduction” and “public health.”
I’m not making this up. The entire point of the conference was “ Green Asia” and all the horrors climate change is allegedly inflicting upon us, and Hu more or less blew it off.
I’m not going to burn people I spoke to after this by identifying them, because they didn’t think they were talking to someone who was going to put their comments on a “blog” a day later. But one very prominent attendee—a political figure– shrugged and said, “look, China’s hosting what it’s calling a “Green Olympics” this summer, and the only way they can get the air clean is by shutting the place down entirely at least a month in advance. He can’t oversell this environmental stuff.”
Another American businessman, who is about as charged up as you can get about selling “green technology” in China, was despondent and confused. What was the message you took from that, he asked me later. I tried to be gentle, but there was only one message. Sometimes by what they //don’t // say leaders convey what the message actually is.
Some of us were in a holding room after the speech, to have a group photograph taken with President Hu. (Why some were included in this and others not is beyond me. It didn’t seem to have to do with conference sponsorship). A few of us were discussing the same topic: why, at a forum devoted to the environment and “Green Asia” did the keynote speaker– the second most important political leader on the face of the earth– barely touch on the topic du jour? Point blank, to a senior executive at a VERY large company in Asia (not based in China or Japan), I asked: “You’re Hu Jintao. You run China; 1.3 billion people; lots and lots of problems to deal with. Tell me, seriously, how much time do you think you spend worrying about climate change?”
With a tight smile, the executive replied. “Not a lot.”
Which is the correct answer.