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Obama Reassures China... For Now

Here's a snippet from Obama's speech at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which kicked off today:

Second, we can cooperate to advance our mutual interest in a clean, secure, and prosperous energy future. The United States and China are the two largest consumers of energy in the world. We are also the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. Let's be frank: Neither of us profits from a growing dependence on foreign oil, nor can we spare our people from the ravages of climate change unless we cooperate. Common sense calls upon us to act in concert.

Both of our countries are taking steps to transform our energy economies. Together we can chart a low carbon recovery; we can expand joint efforts at research and development to promote the clean and efficient use of energy; and we can work together to forge a global response at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and beyond. And the best way to foster the innovation that can increase our security and prosperity is to keep our markets open to new ideas, new exchanges, and new sources of energy.

Notice that last sentence. Sure sounds like Obama's reassuring Beijing that he's opposed to using carbon tariffs to coerce China into action on climate change, as Congress has proposed. But no matter how many times he says it, there's still an implicit carrot/stick approach here. Obama goes out and preaches the virtues of open markets and stresses his preference for constructive engagement, but there's always the threat, lurking in the background, that if China doesn't cooperate, then who knows what those crazy protectionists on Capitol Hill might do.

Update: Huh, Keith Johnson's a much savvier reader of diplomatic-speak than I am, and observes that there's another possible interpretation here: Obama could be making a subtle plea for China to bolster its shoddy intellectual-property protections, which many Western companies see as a real obstacle to cooperation on clean-energy tech.

(Flickr photo credit: vonmarkus)

--Bradford Plumer