Joe Biden, China, and Climate Change
During the first presidential debate, Joe Biden pledged that, if victorious, he would rejoin the Paris Accord from which the U.S. is formally withdrawing. That’s no surprise. Elevating China was the key to the Paris climate agreement, and the famously Sinophilic Biden never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to stand up to Communist China. According to Barack Obama, whom Chinese Communist media saluted as a “veteran cadre,” there would have been no Paris Agreement without his administration’s determined efforts to make common cause with China.
A Sino-U.S. understanding must form the keystone of any “effective” global climate regime. After all, China gets two-thirds of its energy by burning about half of the world’s coal supply, and by 2007, China had passed the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The 2009 Copenhagen climate conference had sought “deep cuts” in global emissions with the aim of halving them by 2050, but China and other emerging emitters quashed it. This proved to the new Obama administration that the stairway to climate heaven climbed through Beijing. Accordingly, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled that the administration would not allow America’s longtime support of human rights to “interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”
On Oct. 5, 2009, in the administration’s first China-related speech, first Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg called for “a core, if tacit, bargain”: Beijing would quell America’s qualms by making assurances that its rise would “not come at the expense of the security and well-being of others”; in turn, Washington needed to welcome China’s ascendance – thus calling for “strategic reassurance” between the two powers.
Soon after taking office, Obama set up a summit meeting in Beijing with then-Chinese president Hu Jintao, coupled with a visit to Shanghai. This, however, raised a red flag: His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet planned to visit Washington around that time to meet America’s new president. For decades, no American president had denied the exiled leader an audience. Yet Nobel Laureate Obama put off the meeting until after his summit with Hu.
At that summit, according to the Washington Post, “Obama was subject to the shabbiest treatment of any American president visiting China ever,” an encounter so frosty that “Saturday Night Live” parodied it. China even censored the American president’s remarks during a Q&A with Shanghai students – ironically, given that those remarks criticized censorship and praised freedom of expression.
Prospects for an agreement improved when Xi took power in 2012, acknowledging as he did that the Chinese people wanted “a better environment,” a potential nod to environmentally sensitive Washington. Visiting the U.S. later that year, Xi described a new model of major-country relations, in which China was treated more as an equal to America, with a dramatic expansion of bilateral interplay on economic, trade, energy, environmental, cultural, and even military issues.
Then, in June 2013, at Xi’s first meeting as leader with Obama, the Chinese dictator proposed that new model, and reported that he and Obama had “reached important consensus” on their “joint work to build a new model of major country relationship.”
Also at that meeting, Obama confirmed that Xi had stressed the importance of military-to-military communications in particular, and that the two had agreed that their countries were “more likely to achieve our objectives of prosperity and security of our people if we are working together cooperatively, rather than engaged in conflict.” Obama went further, explicitly stating that it was “very much in the interest of the U.S. for China to continue its peaceful rise.” Why? Because, Obama said, this would position China to work with America “as equal partners in dealing with many of the global challenges that no single nation can address by itself.”
Yet Obama mentioned only one such challenge: Climate change.
By November 2014, Xi and Obama had made the Beijing joint announcement on climate change, in which they pledged to work together to address “major impediments to reaching a successful global climate agreement in Paris.” Calling climate change “one of the greatest threats facing humanity,” Obama agreed to reduce U.S. emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level by 2025; Xi agreed only that China’s CO2 emissions would peak “around 2030,” that China would “make best efforts to peak early,” and that China would increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to “around 20%” by 2030.
What did this cooperation produce? Certainly not a cessation of Communist China’s belching greenhouse gases and actual pollutants into the world’s atmosphere. According to research cited by Rupert Darwall, China is developing a towering 259 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired capacity, comparable to the capacity of the entire U.S. coal fleet combined (at 266 GW), and boosting China’s current coal fleet of 993 GW by 25%. Outside its own borders, moreover, Red China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is involved in 240 coal-fired power projects in 25 countries.
The cooperation did not even produce comparable commitments from the two countries in Paris. For instance, the U.S.’s nationally determined contribution (NDC), submitted by the Obama administration in March 2016, looked for CO2 emission reductions of 80% or more by 2050, and laid out a host of strict regulatory actions intended to reach the target. By contrast, the Chinese NDC calls the world’s largest CO2 emitter a “developing country,” claims that it is among the countries most severely affected by the adverse impacts of climate change, and describes its “utmost efforts in addressing climate change” – but only “consistent with its prevailing national circumstances.” China’s NDC simply reiterates Xi’s goals of peaking carbon dioxide emissions “around 2030” and increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to “around 20%.” Finally, China’s NDC commits to lowering CO2 emissions by a seemingly impressive 60% to 65% from the 2005 level by 2030 – but only per unit of GDP.
Outside the climate sphere, China’s geopolitical behavior has, if anything, worsened since Obama granted it these extraordinary concessions to secure a climate pact. In spite of the Obama administration’s “strategic reassurance,” the Middle Kingdom’s rise has come increasingly at the expense of America’s security and well-being.
By pledging to revert to a policy that long ago showed itself to be a profound failure, and at best painfully naïve, Biden is doubling down on his pro-China stance. America’s return to an appease-Xi strategy would give China a blank check for its aggressive acquisitions in the South China Sea, its concentration camps crammed with Uighurs, its forced organ harvesting (including from peaceful Falun Gong practitioners), its overtly racist practices in Africa, its coordinated coup in Hong Kong – and potentially the invasion of Taiwan, which China has long contemplated.
America would be better served to stay the course, consigning Paris to the ashcan of history and checking a chekist China at every turn. It worked against the Soviets, and it will work again.
Christopher C. Hull, Ph.D., is President of Issue Management Inc., senior fellow at Americans for Intelligence Reform, an adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, and author of “Grassroots Rules” (Stanford University Press). He holds an undergraduate degree magna cum laude in government from Harvard, and a doctorate with distinction in government from Georgetown University.