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China, Climate Change and Compromise 

As President Putin arrives in China for a two-day visit with President Xi, the Sino-Russo axis appears stronger than ever. The two men dominate their respective countries and make no illusions in their distaste for the West, however, there is one problem in particular which requires cooperation between the West and its adversaries to the East; climate change


In recent days, President Biden has announced a 100% tariff on Chinese Electrical Vehicles and a 50% tariff on Chinese produced solar cells. Under pressure from domestic automotive industries, the European Union and Britain will face similar pressures to curtail the importation of cheap Chinese electrical vehicles which undercut domestic produce. 


The White House has made no secret of the nature of the tariffs, designed to target the Chinese Green Technology sector; President Biden commented that, “Whether it’s gas, electric or hybrid we’re never going to allow China to unfairly control the market for these cars – period”. But one has to wonder why Chinese production and investment, driven by large government subsidies rather than private investment, is perceived as ‘cheating’? 


The truth of the matter centres around Western economic insecurities, protectionism, and valid security concerns. China’s stratospheric economic rise throughout the 21st Century has driven suspicion and worry across the Western world. Despite an economic slowdown, China’s economy grew by 5.2% in 2023, according to KPMG. In comparison, the U.S. economy only grew by 2.5%; understandably the West feels a sense of trepidation as its hegemony slowly comes to an end. Not since the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, have the assumptions of Western economic and cultural values been so vulnerable within an increasingly multipolar world.  


The West is worried for a number of reasons, on the one hand the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s flagship policy, has been growing steadily over the last decade, with more than 150 countries now signed up to the project. It provides targeted investment from China into foreign countries' infrastructure using Chinese resources and employing Chinese companies. The Belt and Road Initiative is a fascinating endeavour, and China has already spent over $1 trillion. For many developing countries, the programme offers a far more flexible and targeted system of investment compared to the historical source of investment; the World Bank.  


For the West, this is a grave concern. There is a suspicion that China will use their influence to turn countries across Latin America, Africa, and Asia away from the West and toward a more Sino-friendly form of international relations. Indeed, the threat of  ‘debt-trap’ for many of these countries appears to be a tangible reality. Combine these fears about an increasingly influential China with cyber security concerns, centred around both espionage and the theft of intellectual property, and one can begin to understand Biden’s propensity for undermining the Chinese economy. 


However, hanging over this Sino-Western argument, is not the ghost of Marx or Friedman, but the existential threat of climate change. As real and as important as economic and security concerns are in relation to how the West engages with China, a greater truth remains; that our species is careering toward a world which will be increasingly uninhabitable and increasingly dystopian, as the effects of climate change continue to gain pace. Politics is the art of compromise and the art of prioritisation. What Biden’s tariff’s indicate is that climate change remains in the doldrums of the West’s political priorities. It is a fact that China’s Green Technology is being made at a far greater rate and far cheaper than anywhere else in the World. The West can bemoan that and can call foul over how China came into such a position, but the West must be realistic and curtail their hubristic attitude to all things Chinese.  


China has more than 80% of the world’s solar manufacturing capacity. In the 10 years between 2012 and 2022, Chinese solar and wind capacity grew from 68 gigawatts (in line with the U.S. at the time and around 100 gigawatts less than the EU) to 759 gigawatts, 100 gigawatts more than the U.S. and EU combined. Whether you agree or disagree with the Chinese economic model, the fact is that China is the global leader in Green Technology because they have invested heavily into the industry. It is not the fault of China that the automotive and fossil fuel industries in the West, and especially in America, have proved so cancerous to the ability to invest in domestic green technology. It is not the fault of China that fossil fuel companies have spent $220 million since the Paris Agreement on lobbying U.S. policy makers to manipulate the democratic process of the country in favour of oil and gas, and away from greener solutions. 


Whether the West likes it or not, and it is pretty clear that it does not, China is here to stay, and it will be able to produce goods which can provide a net-positive to the World, especially in relation to Green Technology. With time ticking and the vast majority of green targets being hopelessly missed, it is imperative that the West is humble enough to learn from China’s example; to learn that, with genuine investment, Green Technology is not only good for the planet but effective and affordable too. For too long the West has been stuck in an anachronistic perception of the World and her economy, assuming that the golden age of globalisation in the 1980’s and 90’s would continue to be a Western-dominated enterprise. With the rise of China, it is clear that we now live in a multipolar world, and a refusal to compromise and accept that the Chinese economic model, in spite of all its problems, can offer solutions to climate change will resign our planet to environmental destitution.  


Image: Planet Labs, Inc.

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