May 09, 1996
In "Gardening With Beijing" (New York Times, Op-Ed, April 17, 1996) Thomas L. Friedman relates a conversation President Clinton had with China's President, Jiang Zemin, a few months ago. According to Mr. Friedman, President Clinton said to his Chinese peer that "the greatest threat to our [US] security that you present is that all of your people will want to get rich in exactly the same way we got rich. And unless we try to triple the automobile mileage and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if you all get rich in that way we won't be breathing very well. There are just so many more of you than there are of us, and if you behave exactly the same way we do, you will do irrevocable damage to the global environment. And it will be partly our fault, because we got there first and we should be able to figure out how to help you solve this problem." And, in an afterthought, Mr. Clinton tells Mr. Friedman, "I could tell he hadn't thought about it just like that before." Before moving on to his bucolic metaphors Mr. Friedman concurs that, "if China's 1.2 billion people all trade in their bicycles for cars it will alter our air and weather."
Mr. Friedman, however, does not relate President Jiang Zemin's response to Mr. Clinton's thoughts. Well, Swans is happy to report that thanks to its mole in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, we have obtained a copy of Mr. Jiang Zemin's report of his conversation with President Clinton. His response is integrally reproduced below.
"I said to the American president: Esteemed President Clinton, my heart would ache that our economic development would ever produce adverse effects to the highly-regarded and esteemed people of the esteemed and highly-regarded United States of America. It might surprise you to know that we, in China, have high regards and great esteem for the American ingenuity and capacity to find solutions to the great challenges of our time, and hold your infinite wisdom in particular profound esteem. You should rest assured, esteemed Mr. President, that the well-being of your esteemed people is at the very top of the Chinese list of priorities when our government devises market-oriented economic reforms."
At this point of the report, a parenthesis is opened by the scribe; it reads: "(Comrades, I could tell the American president looked very pleased with my response. So I went on...)"
"Since the global environment is so dear to your esteemed well-being and that of your esteemed people you will not be overly surprised to know that we study with careful attention the many steps taken by your greatly-regarded country to leave a better world for your esteemed future generations. We are particularly impressed and humbled by the great strides you have made over the years toward sustainability. For example, we have noticed your remarkable achievements regarding the number of vehicles in your esteemed country that keeps increasing year after year, the number of miles traveled by these vehicles per person (about 5,300 in 1973 and only 7,900 in 1994), the steady increase in gasoline consumption for the past five years, the drop in the miles per gallon of your total automotive park, and all the while charging your esteemed citizens the lowest price per gallon in the entire industialized world. Consequently, esteemed Mr. President, it might surprise you once again that the humble people of China, believing as do you in the superiority of free-market economies, and far from considering the esteemed American people as a threat to the global environment and to the future of their country, truly think that one cannot sustainably speak out of both sides of one's mouth."
The report ends with another parenthesis: "(Comrades, I could tell the American president hadn't thought about it just like that before.)"
How regrettable that Mr. Friedman did not relate Mr. Clinton's response!
(For the lawyers out there, please note that this article, but for the first paragraph and the first sentence of the second, is fictitious; that is, a product of this writer's imagination. However, the data regarding gas mileage and consumption, etc., is factual and can be found in the May 5, 1996 issue of The New York Times, Ideas and Trends, in an article by Matthew L. Wald, "How America Perpetuates Its Gas Crisis")