Understanding Intent through Travel Records: China and Copenhagen

Understanding Intent through Travel Records: China and Copenhagen

Post the Copenhagen summit December 7-18th there has been intense debate on why it failed to generate a strong agreement (depending on your view!). Blogger/journalist Mark Lynas wrote a scathing piece on how “China wrecked the deal” which received a lot of attention including an official Chinese rebuke in Xinhua.

We wanted to use Recorded Future to analyze whether the Chinese sent lower level officials (Premier Wen Jiabao rather than President Hu Jintao) than other countries (e.g. President Barack Obama from the US) as way of manipulating negotiations (requiring “calling home to HQ” by the Chinese – as a stalling tactic).


Mark Lynas wrote in the Guardian “The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself.”

In Recorded Future’s open sources data we cannot track what happened behind closed doors (i.e. who attended what session) – but we can examine public travel patterns.

Pretty much every country sent their most senior government leader to Copenhagen – President Obama from the US, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from India, Prime Minister Angela Merkel from Germany, Prime Minister Gordon Brown from the UK, etc. etc.

We can easily find these public travel records in Recorded Future – e.g. searching PersonTravel Barack Obama/Manmohan Singh/Dmitry Medvedev December yields

2009-12-18, today, Denmark, Barack Obama Person Travel
President Barack Obama arrives in Denmark today, either just in time to save the Copenhagen talks, or just in time to watch this “last best hope for mankind” die.

Copenhagen, Manmohan Singh Person Travel
…Speaking to reporters here, he made it clear that the text of the political statement would be ready before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other world leaders reach Copenhagen for the final leg of the 12-day talks.

Copenhagen, Dmitry Medvedev Person Travel
… more than six months in Geneva is due to take over from START 1. Medvedev will travel to Copenhagen for the final stages of the UN Climate talks on Thursday and Friday.

These records from Recorded Future’s real time harvesting of thousands of open sources, looking for key events.

Basically, all key countries sent their most senior leader to Copenhagen, except for China.

Why was Hu Jintao not in Copenhagen?

Hu Jintao may not have attended the Copenhahen summit for a number of reasons. He may

  1. Not travel very much in general
  2. Be busy with other activities
  3. Have deliberately stayed away – to appear “beyond actual negotiations” or make it more complicated for the negotiations to arrive at “final answer/be put up against wall” – classic negotiation tactic.

We can at least analyze the 1) and 2) easily in Recorded Future – e.g. initially quickly review his 2009 travel in this time line visualization – and find that Hu Jintao has had a very intensive travel record in 2009 – including every continent, many countries, meetings like G8/G20 and UN meetings on climate change, many trips to energy rich countries, etc.

Click to enlarge

We’re probably safe to conclude that Hu Jintao is not afraid of travel in general, not afraid of big UN / G8/ G20 like summits, and finally not afraid of the Energy/Climate subject in itself. However he chose to avoid this “final step” in the negotiation in Copenhagen.

So what did Hu Jintao do in December?

Interestingly enough Hu Jintao had a very busy travel record in December. Searching for PersonTravel Hu Jintao December we find first a trip to Malysia – but maybe more interesting – a visit to Central Asia – that is very nicely covered in these to hits from Chinese and Central Asian sources:

Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Hu Jintao Person Travel
…BEIJING, Dec 10 – China aims to deepen energy ties with Central Asian states seeking new markets for their oil, gas and uranium, an official said today, ahead of a visit to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Turkmenistan, Hu Jintao Person Travel
Hu is due to travel onward to Turkmenistan, where he will attend a ceremony this week marking the start of gas deliveries from the Central Asian nation.

Hu Jintao traveled to Central Asia to secure carbon based fuel deliveries, while sending a junior delegation to deal with world leaders on climate change a day later.

Hu Jintao returned from Central Asia December 15th, per below

2009-12-15, on Tuesday, Beijing, Hu Jintao Person Travel
President Hu Jintao returned to Beijing on Tuesday after wrapping up his Central Asia visit to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Interestingly enough Wen Jiabao left the 16th for Copenhagen – Hu Jintao would have had plenty of time to travel to Copenhagen logistically, and still have time for his energy deals in Central Asia.

2009-12-16, this afternoon, Copenhagen, Wen Jiabao Person Travel
Premier Wen Jiabao will leave for Copenhagen this afternoon, hoping to help seal a fair and effective climate change deal for the planet and secure China’s emission rights.


Travel records – in this case aggregated from completely open sources, can be a very powerful way of analyzing intent. We obviously can’t conclusive say that Hu Jintao deliberately stayed away from Copenhagen as a negotiation tactic from the above – however it certainly provides a very compelling track of analysis, that can be cross-checked in many ways.

If we want to stay abreast on Hu Jintao’s travel we can easily register a Future on PersonTravel Hu Jintao – or say more specifically PersonTravel Hu Jintao Africa to catch any trips he’s making to African countries/cities – and if we want to explore future travel by Hu Jintao we can equally easily just search PersonTravel Hu Jintao Future.

As always, we welcome your comments below!