The Chinese Power Cut and Washington’s Political Correctness

October 20, 2021 Updated: November 3, 2021


A sudden nationwide power cut in China in late September is creating tremendous pressure for manufacturing industries and has been inconvenient for people in the affected area.

Chinese authorities claim that an electricity shortage was the cause of the power cut. But through analysis, I believe the power cut was nothing but a political undertaking enforced by the regime. The purpose is to bring down carbon emissions.

This national restriction on fossil fuels is simply part of a political duet between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping. It will help to boost Biden’s image in Washington and help Xi to regain his confidence by getting China off of trade sanctions.

Is China’s Fossil Fuel Power in Big Trouble?

Coal-fueled power, supplying 71 percent of China’s electricity, is the main power supply in the eastern developed region of China.

There are two reasons for a power shortage: a sudden increase in power consumption or the sudden shutdown of a power plant. In the latter case, it would be an accident at the facility. In a large and populous nation, an accident in one or two power plants shouldn’t affect the power supply of the entire nation. If incidents took place in multiple power plants at the same time, it’s unlikely that it would be an accident. There also wasn’t any major power plant-related incident reported in China. Could it be that all of China’s power grids collapsed at the same time? That would be inconceivable.

More than 20 years ago, China built power grids covering northeastern, northwestern, northern, eastern, and southern China.

Provinces in the coastal and border areas of China, such as Shandong, Fujian, Hainan, Xinjiang, Tibet, and even the landlocked province of Sichuan, have independent power grids that aren’t connected to neighboring provinces. After some construction of networking among power grids more recently, power can be adjusted across the network.

Considering that eastern China relies heavily on fossil fuel power, it’s affected by coal supply and coal prices. The coal shortage seems to justify the wide power cut.

Was there a sudden shortage of coal in August, due to a decline in domestic production, a drop in the import volume, or an unexpectedly skyrocketing coal prices?

If this is the case, these aren’t state secrets and there should have been news if such developments took place.

Moreover, coal shortages and high coal prices aren’t as unpredictable as earthquakes and epidemics. There should have been signs, right? At least in August, one month before the large-scale blackout, it should have been known that there may be insufficient power supply in September. The strange thing is that even one week before the nationwide power cut, the relevant information was still “OK.”

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The sun sets behind electricity power pylons in Beijing on Sept. 28, 2021. (Leo Ramirez/AFP via Getty Images)

On Sept. 10, the China Coal Transportation and Distribution Association (CCTDA) routinely published the trend of the domestic coal market up to August.

First, a series of measures to increase coal inventory took effect in August to enhance the annual coal production to an additional 70-plus million tons. Second, coal imports in August increased by 36 percent year-over-year. Third, the industrial recovery momentum weakened in August, the peak season for power consumption in the summertime is coming to an end, and the coal consumption rate has dropped significantly. Fourth, the rise of coal prices slowed at the end of August, and the Shanxi coal price fell by 8 percent from July.

The only negative is that, due to the epidemic, coal inventory in power plants at the end of August dropped by 26 percent year-over-year.

Based on that information, CCTDA made this forecast of coal consumption for power generation in September: There will be a steady increase in coal production and supply; coal imports will continue to recover; in September and October, the off-season for coal consumption, a significant drop in the coal consumption level of power plants will occur as the temperature cools down; the meteorological department predicts that there will be more precipitation in many parts of the country in September; hydropower output is expected to increase, and hydropower will gradually replace coal power.

The Power Cut Is the CCP’s Administrative Order

This nationwide power cut is, in fact, an order from the regime’s central headquarters, Zhongnanhai. To put it simply, it was a man-made decision, not a supply shortage.

On Sept. 11, the National Development and Reform Commission issued the document (2021) No. 1310, which was distributed to all provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities, and ministries, commissions, and agencies directly under the State Council. This document sets a strict limit of power consumption for each province and city based on the data of electricity consumption in the jurisdictions of various local governments.

It took a week to ration the annual power consumption indicators for local governments. By Sept. 16, the order was allocated to all levels through the grassroots effort.

This is a mandatory administrative task; Local governments are obliged to meet the national goal set by Zhongnanhai. Subsequently, the movement of shutdowns and outages took place.

This document wasn’t confidential, and it was also reported by the Chinese media. But no one dares to hold Zhongnanhai accountable for the power cut.

CCP Shifts From Resistance to Changing Carbon Emissions to Enforcing Reduction

In early September, when Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry visited China, the communist regime was clear: China won’t reduce its carbon emissions.

Biden differs from former President Donald Trump, in that he doesn’t appear to care about the serious damage to the United States caused by the trade deficit and technology theft. The military threat from the Beijing regime of using U.S. technology against the United States and East Asia also poses no concern to Biden.

The climate issue tops the Biden administration’s “political correctness” priority list; that’s how the position of climate envoy was created. Kerry has visited China twice with the hope of fulfilling his mission: reducing carbon emissions.

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U.S. President Joe Biden (C) delivers remarks as U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and former Secretary of State John Kerry listen during day two of the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate at the East Room of the White House on April 23, 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images)

However, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shut the door of cooperation on climate issues during a Sept. 1 meeting in Tianjin, China. Wang told Kerry that in order to have China–U.S. cooperation on climate change, the United States should take actions to bring China–U.S. relations back on track. That means there’s no cooperation on climate if Biden keeps Trump’s sanctions and bans on technology trade.

The Chinese regime leveraged climate issues to force Biden to make a concession on Trump’s unilateral trade sanctions on China. The CCP had no intention of reducing carbon emissions. However, three weeks later, China took a drastic turn. The entire nation engaged in reducing carbon emissions with a cap on power consumption.

The power cut is a big move. It brought production in many industries to a halt. Why did the regime suddenly initiate this economically suicidal policy to help Biden realize his dream of reducing carbon emissions?

What Happened in 20 Days Leading Up to the Shift?

From refusing to reduce carbon emissions to its sudden power cut, this drastic change took place in 20 days. Let’s take a look at the series of events that occurred in those 20 days.

On Sept. 1, Wang told Kerry clearly that China wouldn’t deal with Biden’s climate policy without the United States revoking Trump’s sanctions.

On Sept. 9, Biden suddenly called Xi. The content of the call wasn’t made public until Sept. 27, when White House press secretary Jen Psaki mentioned part of it when she answered questions regarding the link between the release of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou and China’s release of two Canadians.

China issued the aforementioned document (2021) No. 1310 on Sept. 11, a plan for “Improving the Dual Control System of Energy Consumption Intensity and Total Volume.”

This plan—to meet Biden’s need in climate policy and reach the goal of reducing carbon emissions—shows that Xi was prepared to strike hard to reduce fossil fuel use at the expense of the economy and manufacturing.

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Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou receives flowers after she arrives following her release, in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, in a screenshot from video released on Sept. 25, 2021, by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. (AFP via Getty Images)

This relatively technical document, which would take time to prepare, was sent out on Sept. 11. It demonstrated that Beijing—after Kerry’s visit and before Biden and Xi’s phone call—was aware that Biden would make concessions in economics and trade. Obviously, the document was drafted much earlier as a quid pro quo.

Local implementation of the policy didn’t take place until nearly two weeks later.

The so-called domestic reasons for this are at the technical level. Once the total volume of carbon reduction is determined, it needs to be broken down to all provinces and cities.

The power outages will surely hit the economy. No province or city will do it voluntarily. Therefore, there were negotiations and bargaining between the central and the local governments, followed by negotiations and bargaining between the provincial and the prefecture-level cities.

It would take time to negotiate and the policy was kept temporarily secret. Until it was formally effective, the industries took the shock without any warning.

There are also reasons from the U.S. side for the delay of the policy implementation—because it took time to release Meng. She wasn’t released until Sept. 24, when U.S.–China negotiations on the release were finalized.

Meng’s case was important in U.S.–China relations. The regime claims that it’s a victory for them, but it’s actually a secret deal between Xi and Biden.

The day before Meng’s release, China’s plan to reduce carbon emissions had been broken down to the county and city level, so the CCP immediately ordered the implementation of its “Dual Control System,” followed by a nationwide blackout. The power rationing immediately brought overseas media attention and analysis.

But no one paid attention to the direct linkage between the release of Meng and the power rationing in China.

Did Biden Arrange for Republicans, Democrats to Accept the CCP’s United Front?

In addition to taking the initiative for a private call to Xi, Biden also arranged an incredibly political act to show that U.S.–China relations were back on track—bilateral cooperation.

On Sept. 13, the China–U.S. Political Party Leaders Dialogue took place through video. Song Tao, head of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee; Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee; and Carla Hills, a former U.S. trade representative who attended on behalf of the Republican Party, took part in the dialogue.

The U.S. media made no mention of this dialogue, nor did the two U.S. political parties. It was only reported by the CCP’s state media. Biden kept this matter completely hidden from Americans.

Although this dialogue is only a formality, it’s very important to Xi. Since the CCP ignited the Sino–U.S. cold war in the first half of 2020, Biden’s concession gives Xi the confidence to tell high-level CCP officials that Biden has cooperated and accepted the CCP’s united front. In other words, despite the CCP’s open military threat to the United States, it’s evident that the two parties continue to support the CCP by sending representatives in accordance with the arrangements of the CCP’s important foreign united front organization.

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Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and then-Chinese Vice Chair Xi Jinping display shirts with a message given to them by students at the International Studies Learning School in Southgate, Calif., near Los Angeles on Feb. 17, 2012. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The mission of the CCP’s International Department is to carry out a united front against all communist parties and foreign leftist parties, and those foreign parties that directly interact with it are mostly minor parties and are basically Marxists. Those who accept the arrangement of the CCP’s International Department ideologically identify with the totalitarianism of the CCP.

The U.S. Democratic Party has long been holding high the ideological banner of “political correctness,” and is becoming more and more Marxist. Many of its policies have increasingly shown signs of political arbitrariness. It’s not surprising that the Democratic Party and the CCP have sat on the same bench.

But after the CCP began to directly threaten U.S. national security, is it not surprising that the Republican Party took the initiative to accept the CCP’s United Front? This shows that pro-communist forces, although deceptive in appearance, are also present in the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party bluntly sells Marxist ideas in schools and publicly implements Marxist anti-capitalist propositions in policy, while the pro-communist forces within the Republican Party pretend to adhere to the traditional values ​​of the United States, while in fact, they’re in line with the Democratic Party’s Marxist ideology and political views.

Biden frames his China policy as competing with the CCP. Does that also imply that it’s a competition in promoting Marxist ideology?

If this isn’t the case, aren’t the traditional U.S. values and the CCP’s ideology always going against each other and opposing each other? How can they compete?

How Long Will the Duet Play?

But China wouldn’t undergo the huge economic cost of the power cut just for a person such as Meng Wanzhou; this Biden and Xi duet was to reverse Trump’s economic sanctions and political strikes against the CCP.

The CCP’s power curb is actually a political show: Biden and the U.S. Democratic elite are its audience.

This show brought confidence for Biden: The CCP collaborated on the politically correct policy of reducing carbon emissions. The true reason behind China’s power cut is the political need for the CCP’s diplomacy.

As for the Democrats, it will help the Democratic Party retain the majority of seats in the House of Representatives during midterm elections in 2022.

The Biden administration immediately responded to China’s political show of cutting power with what Xi has long been waiting for. On Sept. 24, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo told The Wall Street Journal that she seeks to improve U.S. business ties with China and that she plans to lead delegations of U.S. chief executives to China. This is an economic olive branch that the Biden administration has extended to the CCP.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated on July 16 that the tariffs imposed by Trump on China have harmed U.S. consumers. What Raimondo is going to discuss with the CCP should be in line with what Yellen announced—and also what the CCP’s long-waited for—canceling the tariffs.

On Oct. 4, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), outlining the Biden–Harris administration’s new approach to the U.S.–China bilateral trade relationship.

The approach includes four points. First, review the Phase One Agreement signed during Trump’s presidency and require China to abide by its commitments. Second, start a targeted tariff exclusion process. Third, the administration will “soon” have video talks with Vice Premier Liu He to negotiate the details of that tariff exclusion. Fourth, Biden’s trade policy toward China will be adjusted at any time in accordance with China’s response to U.S. policy.

Tai acted quickly. On Oct. 8, she had a virtual meeting with Liu He.

The United States and China began to discuss how the United States could remove the tariffs on Chinese goods.

China’s power cut, a carbon emission reduction political show, can obviously end at any time. The challenge for Biden is that the CCP is continuing its military threats against the United States by stepping up its military coercion against Taiwan. Biden’s China economic and trade policy is therefore tied to military issues. On Oct. 6, Biden sent national security adviser Jake Sullivan to meet with Yang Jiechi, China’s top ambassador, in Switzerland. A large part of the six-hour talk regarded the issue of military confrontation.

Between Biden and Xi, the economic issues are no longer purely of economic concerns. Political calculations are manipulating economic policies and economic and political needs are manifesting as military confrontations.

As the situation continues to evolve, the “political show” of the blackout may soon come to an end or quietly disappear.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Cheng Xiaonong
Dr. Cheng Xiaonong is a scholar of China’s politics and economy based in New Jersey. Cheng was a policy researcher and aide to the former Party leader Zhao Ziyang, when Zhao was premier. He also served as chief editor of the journal Modern China Studies.