Some progressives in the US say America’s China policy is a choice between fighting the abuses in Beijing or saving the planet, but some diplomats warn the strategy won’t work.
Why it matters: The frosty relationship between the US and China is fueling fears that world leaders will not be able to work together to prevent climate disasters.
- China today is by far the world’s largest emitter of carbon, but the US has historically emitted more carbon and is still among the largest emitters per capita.
Send the news: World leaders will gather this week in Glasgow, Scotland, for the UN conference on climate change, known as COP26. President Joe Biden and Climate Envoy John Kerry are here; Chinese President Xi Jinping has remained in China, although he has made written comments.
Background: The Biden administration originally hoped that climate cooperation with China could be conducted on a separate, more collaborative track from the rest of US-China relations, isolating it from political and security tensions.
- In January, Kerry called climate a “critical self-contained issue”, saying the US and China needed to find a way to “compartmental” climate discussions.
- “We are not engaging in trade cooperation with China on climate change as a favor Beijing is doing to the United States,” Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier this year.
- But Beijing has rejected that idea. “U.S.-China climate change cooperation cannot be separated from the wider environment of U.S.-China relations,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a September video call with Kerry, adding that the US “should take positive steps to restore US-China relations on track.”
What is going on: The idea that the US should prioritize climate cooperation over vigorously addressing Beijing’s national security concerns and human rights abuses has also gained traction in some progressive US circles in recent months.
- The US should not “waste” its limited influence over China on persistent issues such as China’s human rights violations, but rather prioritize climate change and technology, Susan Thornton, former acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific under Trump, wrote in a statement. October 21 op-ed for the New York Times.
- In late October, a group of more than 30 Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Biden urging climate diplomacy with China, declaring that “the US will not neglect our values and interests,” including condemning human rights violations, “will not may deter us from exploring potential areas where our nations might be able to ease tensions and gain greater understanding.”
- In July, more than 40 progressive groups sent a letter to Biden asking for an end to the “new Cold War” rhetoric and “instead” to work with China on climate change.
But there is deep skepticism in the White House and among seasoned diplomats that being gentler with China on human rights will lead to meaningful climate concessions.
What they say: “The choice between human rights and climate progress is a wrong choice. As Secretary Kerry has said from the outset, the United States and China have mutual interests in solving the climate crisis while there is still time, even if we fundamentally disagree on others. critical issues,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told Axios.
Diplomats with decades of experience negotiating with Chinese leaders also reject that binary.
- “This argument that we would have to alleviate other issues in order to get their climate cooperation together is pernicious and it would be a terrible mistake,” said Winston Lord, who accompanied Henry Kissinger on the secret trip to Beijing in 1971 that eventually ended. led to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the US and China, Axios said in an interview.
- “The fact is that fighting climate change is in China’s national self-interest. They’re going to do it because they have to do it for their own ends,” said Lord, who also served as US ambassador to China under Reagan and assistant secretary of state for Eastern Europe. Asian and Pacific Affairs under Clinton.
- China has been dealing with extreme heat waves and extreme weather in recent years, and Chinese farmers have lost crops.
Daniel Russell, who served under Obama as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, warned of what he called Wang Yi’s “excessive strategy.”
- “If you give in to Chinese ultimatums, you’re guaranteed to get more of them,” Russel said.
Yes but: Diplomacy is still important.
- It would be a “catastrophic mistake” to conclude that the US should not play any role in partnering with China’s leaders to make and honor stricter commitments, Russel said. And “no one disputes that it is easier to work together when tensions are relatively limited.”
- That is also the view of the White House. “Secretary Kerry and his colleagues in the government are unanimous in their view that China, which is responsible for more than a quarter of global emissions, is an essential part of the climate puzzle,” said the State Department spokesman.