The United States and China have recently forged a bilateral commitment on the need for stronger commitments to climate change. The statement directly followed a meeting between Xie Zhenhua and John Kerry in Shanghai in mid-April, the respective Chinese and American climate convoys.
Both Zhenhua and Kerry eagerly issued a joint statement seeking to neatly wrap up a collaboration so few predicted: “The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, with the aim of discussing concrete actions during the 2020s to reduce emission, aimed towards keeping the Paris Agreement-aligned temperature limit within reach.”
The pledge is certainly comforting and good news for environmental groups and those concerned with the affairs pertaining to the climate. Li Shuo, Senior Climate Adviser for Greenpeace, described the statement as “a big positive; it sends a very unequivocal message that on this particular issue, both superpowers will co-operate. Before the meetings in Shanghai, this wasn’t a message that we could assume.”
U.S. President Biden has certainly followed his words, firstly re-committing the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement – after Trump controversially withdrew from the agreement – and now striking a deal with the world’s current largest polluter (it is estimated China would need to shut down approximately 600 domestic coal-fired power-plants to meet its climate pledge target).
Despite the myriad of positive angles, which numerous journalists have no doubt sewn into their reports and pieces, the U.S. has resolutely made it clear that the climate pact’s primary focus is to favour and maintain a long term view of national security. U.S. National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, is quoted saying “We do not consider Chinese cooperation a favour. The outcome of this effort is to create better and more favourable contexts and atmospheres for managing the behaviour of China, its aggression and activities in more effective and productive ways.”
Mr Sullivan also went further, informing a cohort of socially distanced American and international journalists that the U.S. commitment on the climate front would in no way water down foreign and domestic efforts to hold the Chinese government to account on other, and arguably more pressing, economic and human rights issues (proven allegations of re-education camps, forced labour and efforts to shrink ethnic gene-pool in Xinxiang against the minority Uighur Muslims). More so, the foreign policy strategy and the climate deal between the two main superpowers reflects the sentiments echoed by President Biden in his inauguration speech, making it crystal clear that the economic and political competition with China – in particular, China’s impressive growth rates and rising political influences, particularly in Africa and the Middle East – as the greatest foreign policy threat to the U.S.
Certainly, in the area of foreign policy and on the international stage in particular, it is wise and perhaps productive in analysis to be astute, competent and maybe cynical at times, to understand the wider inner-workings and the complex relations often hidden underneath the surface, which define the current global landscape.