China is committed to the climate (but don’t forget its interests)

China is firmly determined to step up the leading role it intends to play in favor of the environment. Its industry has largely taken over the global production of solar panels and wind turbines, and many research labs are working on anything that could help decrease the amount of fine particles that poison the atmosphere.

The Chinese population is struggling with the episodes of intense pollution that regularly hit the country’s major cities. The case has become rarer for four or five years in Beijing, due in particular to the obligation for polluting factories to move to neighboring provinces, when they have not been ordered to permanently close their doors. .

However, on November 5, thick fog greatly reduced visibility in the capital. Bad weather conditions were added to a resumption of coal mining at nearby mines. The ore remains essential to avoid power cuts and to provide heating during the winter. Under these conditions, for the Chinese authorities, it is very important not to appear outside the international efforts being made in the world to improve the environment. Beijing wants to show the Chinese people as much as international opinion that China is as active as possible in the fight against climate change.

“I win, you lose”

This question did not, however, make relations between China and the United States warmer. November 15, as announced, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping spoke by videoconference. Since the US president took office in January 2021, such a form of dialogue has never occurred. In January and September, the two leaders had only spoken by phone. But this time, this summit reviewed all kinds of questions, without settling the many disputes that exist between the two countries.

Chinese press reports that Xi Jinping insisted on «respect mutuel» necessary for the development of Sino-American relations. “With their intertwined interests, China and the United States have everything to gain from cooperation, and everything to lose from confrontation.” said the Chinese number one, who added that “The correct thing to do is to choose mutual benefit over zero-sum play, or the ‘I win, you lose’ approach”. The conversation between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping extended to U.S.-China trade and “How to responsibly manage competition”.

“China would be compelled to take resolute action if the separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence’ provoke us.”
Xi Jinping, Chinese President

Joe Biden also spoke about his “Concerns” in regards to human rights in China. But concerning the nationalist island of Taiwan, Xi Jinping showed no avenues for dialogue. On the contrary, he declared: “China would be forced to take decisive action if separatist forces to “Taiwan independence” challenge us, force our hand or even cross the red line. ” On the other hand, during this videoconference, Xi Jinping insisted on repeating to Joe Biden that the issue of climate change “Could well become a new strong point of Sino-American cooperation”. China ranks first among countries emitting greenhouse gases. She obviously believes that on this issue, an agreement is possible with the United States, which is second.

Unlike most heads of state, Xi Jinping did not attend a single day of the meeting of the COP26 held from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow. No more than other leaders of heavily polluting countries like the Russian Vladimir Poutine, the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro or the Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. For Xi Jinping, it could be tricky to go abroad when leaving the country is almost prohibited for the Chinese population and anyone who wishes to enter is subject to three weeks of closely monitored confinement. In addition, another reason led Xi Jinping not to leave Beijing at the beginning of November: he had to closely monitor the preparation of the fifth and last Central Committee of his second five-year term, from November 7 to 12 in Beijing.

A provision was on the agenda: to allow Xi Jinping to remain in the post of secretary general of the party after the two terms he will have served in 2022. Forty years ago, Deng Xiaoping, the leader of the post -maoism, had imposed that the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party cannot remain in office beyond two five-year terms. Despite a probable, but silent opposition, Xi Jinping obtained, unanimously, to be able to stand without any deadline being set. This point will be formalized by the Congress of the Communist Party in the fall of 2022.

A very bad example

Xi Jinping not being present at the COP26, China however multiplied the initiatives and declarations concerning the environment during this summit. On October 27, a white paper on China’s progress is published in Beijing “To mitigate climate change and to share its experience with the rest of the international community”. Quotes from Xi Jinping are highlighted in this book such as “If humanity does not disappoint nature, nature will not disappoint us”. Then, on November 3, the Chinese Head of State sent to COP26, which had just started its work in Glasgow, a text of proposals for “Take up the climate challenge”. It is about “Focus international action on concrete actions and accelerate the green transition”. In addition, Xi Jinping recalls that his government recently promulgated an Action Plan to ensure that China reaches its peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030.

Xi Jinping would have liked to speak on video in front of the participants of the COP26. In October, the Presidency of the Republic of China informed the British organizers of the conference. They refused. According to them, the intervention of a head of state from a distance would have been a very bad example for the other leaders of the planet, who themselves traveled to Scotland. China in Glasgow was therefore represented by Wang Yi, its Minister of Foreign Affairs, by Zhao Yinming, a Deputy Minister of the Environment and especially by Xie Zhenhua, a Chinese expert on climate issues. whose competence is widely recognized internationally.

When the 1is November Joe Biden came to COP26, he said of Xi Jinping’s absence: “I think it’s a big mistake of China not to come.” According to the US president, climate change “Is a gigantic subject and they have turned their backs. How can you do that and claim any kind of leadership? ” He, after that, addressed similar reproaches to Vladimir Putin. In Beijing, these words of Joe Biden were not appreciated at all. On November 11, an editorial in the People’s Daily claimed that “The United States blamed the alleged absence of the Chinese and Russian leaders.” The article in the Chinese Communist Party newspaper then vigorously attacked the behavior of the American president, writing in particular: “Before the climate change conference, Joe Biden took a very long fleet of eighty-five fuel-efficient luxury cars with him to Europe. People can’t help but be scared about the US commitment to cut emissions. ”

A Chinese concern

Despite this obvious annoyance from Beijing, discussions ended at the same time in Glasgow between Xie Zhenhua and John Kerry, in charge in the Biden administration of the fight against climate change. When he was Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, John Kerry often met Xie Zhenhua on environmental issues. And the two men spoke a lot during the start of the COP26. The result was an event that was not announced in advance: on November 10, China and the United States issue a joint statement to alarm themselves that the world is failing to reduce emissions enough. greenhouse gas emissions and therefore prevent global warming from exceeding the symbolic threshold of 2 ° C concluded during the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The statement emphasizes “The vital importance of catching up as quickly as possible, by redoubling our efforts”. The two parts “Declare their intention to work individually and jointly, but also with other countries throughout this decisive decade”. From a Chinese point of view, climate change is a fundamental subject on which the two countries can talk to each other and even agree their perspectives. The Americans have therefore agreed to enter into this proposal. And Xie Zhenhua wanted to say to the press, with certain optimism, that, on this subject: “There is more agreement than disagreement between the United States and China, which creates immense potential for cooperation.”

It was agreed that, for the production of electricity, coal would be phased out. China, as well as India, has obtained that the text provides for “reduce” the use of fossil fuels and not of “go out”. Beijing has also not signed the agreement to stop the use of methane. António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, said that “The climate catastrophe is always knocking on the door” and that’“A political will was lacking to overcome the contradictions between the countries”. By concluding the work of this COP26, its president, the British Alok Sharma, said to himself, with tears in his eyes, it was “Deeply sorry” by its outcome.

This Glasgow international meeting highlighted a Chinese concern to be active on the theme of the fight against climate change or in any case to control the international evolutions which occur there.

On the US side, Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained before Joe Biden and Xi Jinping spoke by videoconference on November 16: “Our relationship with China is one of the most important and one of the most complex that we have. There are various dimensions, cooperation, competition and confrontation, and we will act on all three aspects simultaneously. ” This climate of tension will have a symbolic consequence during the Winter Olympics as China will organize in November. American athletes will participate in the competitions, but President Biden will not come to their inauguration.

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