The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tries to play to its advantage the efforts of Western countries to counter climate change, several experts told The Epoch Times; this time, however, its strategy seems to be failing.
Over the past year or so, the CCP has made a series of moves that gave some hope the regime has come around on climate.
The country of 1.4 billion, responsible for about one-third of the world’s carbon emissions and growing, will be carbon neutral by 2060, just 10 years after the deadline other developed nations aim for, CCP head Xi Jinping told United Nations Assembly last year. China boosted its renewable power production by 120 million kilowatts in 2020 and plans to increase it 10-fold by 2030, the regime said. Recently, the CCP added more details, such as a pledge for 80 percent of electricity from non-carbon sources by 2060 as well as a pledge to stop building coal power plants in other countries. Its carbon monoxide emissions are to peak before 2030, officials said.
It appeared Western leaders held some hope the CCP would ramp up its commitments further. After all, without China, the whole effort loses much of its effectiveness. They were then disappointed when CCP’s new climate blueprint reflected no such ramp up.
This was to be expected, however, as the CCP hasn’t been sincere about the issue to begin with, some China experts pointed out.
Behind the environmental rhetoric, the regime is pursuing its own agenda and it’s not one beneficial to the world, they concurred. Obsessed with the stability of its own rule, the CCP recognizes it could benefit from the climate push in multiple ways. There are signs, however, that it can’t hide its true motives well enough anymore.
‘Position of Strength’
Since the beginning, it was apparent to China observers that Beijing will try to use its participation in climate initiatives for political leverage—get the West off its back about human rights abuses, geopolitical expansion, trade misconduct.
“If the U.S. and the EU are all the way bought into achieving the Paris Agreements [on carbon emission reductions], China is in a position of strength to leverage that issue to get gains elsewhere,” said Katie Tubb, economic policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The issue came to the forefront earlier this year when President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, former State Secretary John Kerry, pushed aside the question of slave labor in China, indicating climate should take precedence in engagements with the CCP.
“That was a posture of weakness,” Tubb told The Epoch Times.
There are also indications that the Biden administration won’t push the CCP on its role in the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year in China—a particularly weak spot for the regime.
Gordon Chang, senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute and the author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” criticized the administration for enabling the CCP’s leverage game.
“That’s their [CCP’s] goal and John Kerry is playing into it and that shows you Kerry’s naïveté,” he told The Epoch Times.
Kerry is not alone though. Some mainstream media ran stories that raised the question of whether the United States should make concessions to the CCP in exchange for climate cooperation. Some Democrat lawmakers and environmental activists called for a de facto détente with the regime.
Yet if the CCP managed to build a more earnest perception of its climate efforts, it has undercut it again with Xi’s absence from the United Nations’ recent COP26 climate conference.
Biden accused Xi of a lack of leadership not only for skipping the event but also for passing on any new commitments in the lead up to it.
“There’s a great disappointment with China because people expected that China would do more and China should do more,” Chang said.
“Despite all of the optimism in the past there’s now a realization that Beijing is not going to be a helpful factor.”
Even if the leverage gambit fails, however, China still stands to benefit as long as Western countries go through with the plan.
While a part of the climate push focuses on things like more resilient infrastructure, updating the power grid, and building wind and solar farms, a great deal of the agenda also focuses on reducing consumption.
In order to help fight climate change, organizations like the United Nations and World Economic Forum are urging Americans and Europeans to tighten their belts—use less heating and air conditioning, travel less, own less, eat less meat. While that may cut back on carbon, it would also diminish consumption and in turn the overall importance of the American and EU markets.
The CCP, on the other hand, is willing to impose such restrictions due to shortages but is unlikely to force them out of concern for the climate. As such, the Chinese market would increase in relative importance, giving the regime stronger leverage over businesses seeking access to it, Tubb acknowledged.
And it’s not just the consumption side.
If the current trajectory of environmental regulations continues, it will become all but impossible to drill for oil and natural gas, mine critical minerals, or sell a gasoline-powered car, she said.
“The economic case becomes more and more compelling to offshore all of that to a place like China. … The more we make things difficult in the United States, the more compelling China becomes as a market not just to sell things but to continue to expand manufacturing.”
Chang concurred: “If Biden gets his way, the United States would severely undermine its economic and financial capabilities.”
On the other hand, many businesses have learned painful lessons about the CCP’s underhanded tactics toward foreign companies, including forced transfers or outright theft of intellectual property.
“With Xi Jinping attacking foreign business, I don’t think you’re going to see significant movement of business into China,” Chang said.
Even if companies don’t move to China specifically, however, it would benefit the CCP if America weakens its economy. Much would hinge on whether the climate agenda succeeds in the West and, as Chang suggested, that’s not guaranteed.
Lack of Public Support
Biden has made climate change the “organizing principle” of his administration, Tubb said. But that doesn’t mean he will succeed in implementing his policies or even take them as far as he could, according to Chang.
“Remember, Biden … has suffered a disastrous drop in his approval rating,” he said. “I don’t know how far American climate efforts are going to go.”
The recent Democrat losses in Virginia may give them pause on how far they’re willing to push their agenda. Some in the party are hard-core adherents of the climate agenda, but “they don’t have very much political traction,” in Chang’s view.
“Who knows what’s going to happen to Biden’s agenda in Congress?” he said.
Even before the GOP swept Virginia, it was clear Biden couldn’t quite get Democrats in lockstep, his most grandiose bills repeatedly killed by purple-state Democrats tethered by more moderate leanings of their constituencies.
“I don’t think the mood of the American people is in favor of Biden’s climate measures,” Chang said. “Everyone wants clean air but very few people want to do what Biden wants to do.”
In some ways, it may appear China is at least partially sincere about climate goals. It indeed expanded wind and solar capacity and it looks like it plans to do more. It’s already manufacturing much of the world’s solar panels and also appears serious about electric car production.
But it would be a mistake to read strategy as sincerity, according to Tubb.
The indication isn’t that China plans to switch to renewables, but rather that it’s trying to stave off energy shortage, she argued.
“It’s driven by their need to grow economically. … They are willing to get energy wherever they can get it.”
Even for those less worried about the effects of climate change, wind and solar “do make some amount of sense in a grid, but they make sense in a diversified grid,” she said.
“Renewables bring some things to the table—their fuel is free—but they bring liabilities to the table as well.”
Indeed, the main worry in the West regarding wind and solar is that they are less practical, reliable, and efficient compared to, say, natural gas, she acknowledged.
But the calculation is different in China. The CCP has been willing to build ghost cities to prop up the GDP and employment. Churning out inefficient solar farms would be small potatoes by comparison. The CCP’s renewables buildup could be used as a PR prop, but, Chang agreed, it doesn’t mean China indeed plans to ditch oil, gas, and coal.
“They’re definitely not serious about it and they’re definitely are not going to adhere to their pledges,” he said.
‘Hedging Their Bets’
As Tubb read it, the CCP’s setting China’s carbon-neutral deadline for 2060 was a “strategic” decision to wait to see how the pursuit of more advanced green technologies turns out.
“They’re hedging their bets,” she said.
The CCP can simply sit back and watch the West twisting itself into pretzels trying to counter climate change. If, at the end of it, an electric car becomes both cheaper and more practical than a gas-powered one, China will be there to make it.
In Chang’s view, the CCP’s play is now too transparent.
“People are unimpressed with the pledges that they have made. Especially because we’ve seen them drop the price of coal and ramp up its use because of the rolling power outages. I think that’s woken up a number of people,” he said.
“This is not a good time if you’re a propagandist for China on Climate.”
Point of Division
Still, there’s one area where the climate issue significantly benefits China already—it serves as a point of political division in the West.
The more Americans fight among themselves over climate, the less time can be dedicated to countering the CCP.
“That’s a major tactical error of this administration that they have made global warming the first or second pressing threat that they are trying to claim they are addressing,” Tubb said, noting it “distracts resources, energy, attention away from what I think are much more pressing threats.”