Chinese whispers

The efforts that many sectors in China are making both in policy and in communication are visible in a substantial Chinese presence in Copenhagen: international and national NGOs, official delegations, youth delegations and Chinese media are all here. What is less clear is how effectively the Chinese message is getting across.

Take, for example, an invitation to meet Chinese business leaders at Copenhagen, held at the Radisson Hotel on Tuesday December 8th. As chinadialogue readers know better than anyone, China’s model of growth in the last thirty years has been terribly damaging to the health, well being and future prosperity of Chinese people. Chinese factories continue to poison the water, air and land; as regards climate change, the tiny response to invitations to measure and report their carbon emissions suggests that the vast majority of entrepreneurs remain either ignorant or indifferent to carbon accounting. So a chance to meet an enlightened group of Chinese entrepreneurs could offer  an important counterweight for the thousands of people from all over the world who are in Copenhagen.

The event was organised by Shanshui Conservation Center, WWF, Alxa SEE Ecological Association and the China Entrepreneur Club and billed as an opportunity for Chinese business leaders to deliver messages on climate change and sustainable development. It was good to see a strong Chinese business representation: at the special business summit in Copenhagen in May this year, the Chinese presence had been embarrassingly small and left an impression that Chinese business leaders did not care about their responsibilities in the global effort. Six of China’s most successful entrepreneurs held the floor. They included Marjorie Yang, chair of the Esquel group, Wang Shi from Vanke, the biggest house builder in China, Feng Lun of Vantone and others of similar weight. Wang Shi described   plans to reduce waste and emissions on his company’s construction sites and all the speakers seemed keen to deliver the message that China’s business community was changing: that some entrepreneurs, at least, were facing up to their environmental and climate responsibilities.But who was this message being delivered to? With very few exceptions, everyone in the room was Chinese. Was that the intended audience? If so, why not hold the meeting in Beijing with much less expenditure of money and carbon emissions? If the intention was to reach beyond an audience of compatriots, something had gone  wrong. Between the national groups, alliances, NGOs, research institutions and activists, there are thousands of competing messages in Copenhagen, all struggling to be heard. It is good to see a strong Chinese presence, but just being here is no guarantee of being heard.