Wen Jiabao

Never a greater need for resolve

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 January, 2010, 12:00am

A Happy New Year to you. New Year is traditionally a time for making resolutions that will most likely be quickly broken, such as quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, walking rather than driving to work, going on a diet, exercising at the gym, spending more time with the family, keeping a diary. Often treated lightly, they are usually composed as a way to take stock of one's life.

It is high time for world leaders to make their own resolutions, not just for themselves but for the good of their countries and the world. Sadly, there is a common theme to what they need to do - stop looking through narrow national spectacles and see that we are, all 7 billion of us, inhabitants of a fragile earth that is being destroyed by shortsighted politicians and personal selfishness.

This was depressingly demonstrated at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. The big powers, represented by their president or prime minister, all promised movingly to reduce rising carbon emissions that threaten to destroy the planet - but the best they could agree on was an agreement to work out an agreement that, if fully implemented, would limit global temperature rises to about 6 degrees Celsius. Beyond 2 degrees would push us to the point of disaster.

On a recent tour of continental Europe, India, Southeast Asia and Japan, I was struck by how many people were wrapped in their own small worlds, angry at anyone who intruded on their space. Asashoryu, the Mongolian sumo grand champion, when asked why there was no Japanese champion, contemptuously claimed that young Japanese lacked discipline and dedication. The same is true in Europe and the US.

Barack Obama has made many grand promises, but his visions, though wrapped in fine oratory, have too often been followed by spineless performance: witness how China led him by the nose when he visited, while at home Republicans have harassed him at every turn. The US does not understand the new global reality that it is strong but getting weaker and needs to be a partner in steering the world away from the abyss.

Resolution for Obama: get a grip on the new global reality.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao clearly demonstrated that China has arrived on the world scene and will not be pushed around. Wen pointedly underlined this by sending a junior official to a key Copenhagen negotiating session, a deliberate snub to Obama and the US. This week in a Xinhua interview he vowed that China would resist international pressures to revalue the yuan.

It is easy to sympathise with China's attitudes, but on both issues Wen is wrong. China will be the first to suffer from rising temperatures, and yuan appreciation would help its economic development. Domestically, Hu and Wen are becoming increasingly repressive, which they may think may save their political skins, but is the last thing a developing China needs. China should not be pushed around, but nor must it push others around or we will all perish.

Resolution for Hu and Wen: make positive suggestions for global action; think China, think the world.

European leaders remain too wrapped up in their own narrow national interests. French President Nicolas Sarkozy prances like a show pony, clever but shallow, always chasing the applause of the crowd with a neat and easy trick, Sarkozy first, France second, and Europe only as it fulfils his other dreams. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is more serious and careful, but a thoroughly German politician. Recent election success has not softened her nor given her a vision outside Germany.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, continuing the horse metaphor, can only be a lumbering, wise old Clydesdale, whose wisdom is enlightened by the knowledge that he is heading for the political knacker's yard to be replaced by the promising but inexperienced young colt straining to take over.

Brown is Europe's only mainstream leader showing, on issues from economic aid to financial crisis and climate change, that he knows the future of the world cannot be served only by national interests.

Then there are whathisname and whatshername, Europe's new president and foreign minister, disgracefully chosen by Merkel, Sarkozy and Brown in secret to protect their skins from a real European leader.

Resolution for European leaders: Think and act European and global or perish.

Yukio Hatoyama shook Japan with his smashing election victory that ousted the Liberal Democratic Party and their bureaucratic puppet masters from half a century of entrenched power. Hatoyama and Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa have yet to decide who is really in charge. Whoever it is should think harder before announcing policies. Use the bureaucrats, don't abuse them. You want to close US bases, but the price may be that Japanese soldiers will have to take them over at a price Japan can't afford. Japan's unique advantage is the nuclear victim that renounced war.

Resolution for Hatoyama (and Ozawa): understand Japan's unique but limited role in the world.

Pope Benedict is the most learned of modern popes, who in pure intellectual candlepower would shine brightly over all other world leaders. But his spirit is encrusted in a Europe that has long past.

Resolution for the Pope: remember the 6,999,999,999 people in the world who are not as bright as you and that Christ's promises are to them, too. Visit Asia, see the glitter of Shanghai and the slums of Asia's sprawling cities. Become human.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen: you have to ask what he has done to deserve a place in such distinguished company. He is chief executive of Hong Kong, one of the world's great international cities, a financial and trading powerhouse. Sometimes you would not guess it since he seems intent on being Beijing's Chief Toady.

Hong Kong needs a leader who will speak truth to power for its sake, and for China's.

Resolution for Tsang: stand up and fight for Hong Kong.

Kevin Rafferty is a political commentator