EDITORIAL: Beware of Beijing’s climate trap
Last month, the President’s special climate envoy John Kerry visited China for climate change talks. The meeting concluded with a joint statement pledging that the two sides would continue to work together to decarbonize their economies and meet the commitments made under the Paris Agreement. While this can be seen as a promising step, there is a danger that in its rush to make meaningful progress on climate change, Washington could fall into a trap set by Beijing.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated that it believes it can challenge China economically and militarily, while simultaneously collaborating on issues of common concern, namely climate change. This is hopelessly naive, given Beijing’s “squared” record of keeping its word and ruthless pursuit of its own national interests.
During the administration of former US President Barack Obama – under which Kerry was Secretary of State – Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), at a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, solemnly promised that Beijing would never militarize its possessions in the South. China Sea.
Since then, Beijing has broken its legal commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous system of government under the “one country, two systems” model, and continues to hamper an independent WHO investigation into the origins of the pandemic. COVID-19, despite its initial promises of transparency and information sharing. So when Xi, as he did in September last year, announced that China would be carbon neutral by 2060, why should the Biden administration believe him?
On February 3, Reuters reported that China brought 38.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired power capacity online last year – more than three times the total amount built elsewhere in the world. China’s actions do not match its rhetoric.
Last month, Britain’s Secret Service chief Richard Moore said the organization had started “green snooping” on major polluting countries to expose those who fail to meet their climate change commitments. Moore did not mention China by name, but used the Cold War-era phrase of “trust, but verify,” coined by former US President Ronald Reagan to guide relations with the United States. ‘USSR.
After dashing his hopes that Biden will abandon his predecessor’s Chinese policies, Xi urgently needs some leverage to force Washington to the negotiating table. With Biden putting climate change at the forefront of his political agenda, carbon emissions are the big lever Xi needs.
In an interview with Pro Publica last year, Kerry said, “China is about to bring 21 gigawatts of coal-fired power online. India is prepared to do a little less, but equally huge amounts. It will kill us. It will kill the efforts to deal with the climate. “
At an Earth Day summit last month, Biden called the 2020s a “decisive decade” for averting a climate crisis.
If climate change is an existential threat to humanity, then it makes sense that everything else has to be negotiated to achieve drastic reductions in global carbon emissions. Theoretically, this could include lifting US trade sanctions against China and restrictions on Chinese tech companies – even a relaxation of US defense commitments to Taiwan – if Beijing appeared to be committed to carbon cuts. changing ”.
Perhaps, like so many politicians and business leaders who came before them, Biden and Kerry concluded that, on the whole, they cannot afford not to “engage” with China, because the potential benefits far outweigh the “manageable” risks.
However, as is often the case, such an analysis leans heavily in favor of elusive gains without a good understanding of the risks involved. If he’s not careful, Washington could end up swapping its negotiating position and being left with nothing to show.
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