Last week, President Obama returned from his trip to China.
Many media outlets, including not just the usual right wing echo boxes like FAUX News, but even relatively respected outlets like the Guardian were quick to point to the fact that the Chinese had made no open concessions and pronounce the trip a failure. The naysayers basically said that Obama had gone all that way just to take a walk on the Great Wall.
It is true that the Chinese did not come out and say that they were making concessions, because to them the way that things are presented is a big deal and they don't want to look like they are giving in to the United States. But in the week since then they have made two huge moves, on items that were at or near the top of the agenda when President Obama met his Chinese counterparts.
The first occurred two days ago, when China unilaterally announced a plan to cut carbon emissions by as much as 45% from the level that they would be projected to be at in 2020 if no action were taken. Because of robust projected growth in the Chinese economy the overall emissions will still increase, but by far less than they would have.
China in the past has claimed that they are a 'developing' nation and therefore should be exempt from any carbon emissions standards. During the Bush administration the issue of carbon emissions wasn't even on the agenda during these kinds of meetings but the timing of this announcement within a week after Obama left China makes it pretty obvious that he scored a success on the topic of carbon emissions, even though his hosts waited for a couple of days to announce it so it wouldn't look like a concession.
An even more dramatic shift came yesterday, and on an issue where the Bush administration had no success with the Chinese. China went along with tough language targeting Iran's nuclear program. In the past the Chinese, who have no particular quarrel with the Iranians and prefer to do business with them, have resisted any such move. Again, while the timing of the U.N. vote was not dependent on the President's visit to China, the shift in China's position from previous votes makes it pretty plain that the President scored on this issue too.
I know, I know. The media is like a stampeding herd of cattle, and once they get going in one direction it is tough to move them in another direction. Lately their narrative has been about declining Presidential approval ratings, foreign and domestic policy challenges and other negative stories. So an 'unsuccessful' trip to China fit that narrative and that's how it was reported when the President didn't leave, Neville Chamberlain-style, waving a piece of paper with promises from the Chinese leaders.
But the past few days have made it clear that the media judgment was premature at best, and just plain wrong at worst. On at least two big agenda items, the President got real action from the Chinese.