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Road to rapprochement

By joining together to fight climate change, the United States and China have a historic opportunity to lead a global strategic transformation. Banning Garrett and Jonathan Adams introduce a new report.

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In a new report released by the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a group of more than 50 experts on China, politics and business aim to provide Barack Obama’s new US administration with a policy roadmap for cooperation with China. Common Challenge, Collaborative Response: A Roadmap for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change was produced by the Initiative for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Task Force, co-chaired by John L Thornton, professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and by Steven Chu, prior to his nomination as US secretary of energy. Here, Banning Garrett and Jonathan Adams introduce the report. The full document can be downloaded in both languages here.

Nearly four decades ago, the 1971-72 US-China rapprochement led to the most far-reaching strategic transformation of the international economic, political and security order since the extraordinary set of relationships and institutions that had been established in the aftermath of World War II. Today, the United States and China have a historic opportunity to once again catalyse a strategic transformation, this time to a global low-carbon, sustainable economy to effectively mitigate the chances of catastrophic climate change while increasing global prosperity. American and Chinese leadership is critical since the two countries are the biggest developed and developing countries, the biggest consumers of energy and the biggest producers of greenhouse-gas emissions.  If the US and China do not lead this generations-long effort, it is unlikely that it will occur at all – or at least not on a timetable that will achieve the global greenhouse-gas emissions reductions necessary to prevent cataclysmic climate change. 

This challenge for the US, China and the rest of the world comes at a time not only of increasing threats from global warming, but also the most severe global economic crisis since the Great Depression. The economic meltdown has an immediate and daily-worsening impact while the climate-change crisis is more invisible and slow-developing – although with potentially more disastrous and long-lasting consequences. Political leaders are under great pressure to focus their attention on halting and reversing the economic death spiral that began with the global financial crisis last autumn. Failure to address global warming as part of the economic recovery effort, however, could greatly increase the long-term costs of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and the impacts of climate change. The planned stimulus packages by the United States and China promise vast increases in government resources and directed investment, which offer great potential – if properly directed – to accelerate transition to a global low-carbon economy while pulling the world out of recession. 

To establish their new strategic relationship in the early 1970s, China and the United States overcame more than 20 years of mutual isolation, ideological rivalry, and intense hostility, including fighting a hot war in Korea from 1950 to 1953, a near-conflict over Taiwan in the late 1950s, and a proxy war in Vietnam in the 1960s. While the shared objective of the US-China rapprochement was the containment and strategic isolation of the Soviet Union, the ultimate, long-term effect was to spur the peaceful demise of the Soviet Union and its eastern European empire, thereby ending the Cold War and creating one integrated world economy. The US-China rapprochement also created the international conditions for China’s successful opening to the outside and its economic reform, leading to the extraordinary reemergence of China – and the acceleration of the process of globalisation.  

The US-China rapprochement of the early 1970s was based on strategic calculations and decisions by the top leaders in both countries to deal with the common strategic challenge posed by the Soviet Union. These decisions set in motion a process that led to far more massive international change than a reconfiguration of big-power relations to counterbalance rising Soviet power. The decisions at the top in the two countries unleashed a largely bottom-up process that involved daily decisions and actions of hundreds of millions of people in China and around the world, which transformed the global strategic fabric and created the increasingly interconnected, globalised world we have today.

Now, a shared strategic threat is posed by not by an external enemy but by our own efforts to achieve economic development and prosperity. The climate-change threat is more slow-moving and diffuse than the nuclear threat hanging over the Cold War, but the long-term danger to civilization may be no less existential. The response to this new strategic threat must begin like the US-China rapprochement in the 1970s, with initial decisions by the top leadership of the two nations that set in motion a long-term process that would prove to be even more transformative perhaps than initially envisioned. Similarly, key strategic decisions and concerted efforts to establish the necessary conditions for a transformation of the US and Chinese economies could unleash the creativity, resourcefulness, competitiveness and determination of millions of people and businesses to speed the world’s transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy. 

A new opportunity has emerged in both countries. US president Barack Obama has stated that mitigating climate change will be a high priority for his administration, which is committed to 80% reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. His stimulus plan includes commitment of massive resources for building a new clean energy infrastructure, greater efforts to enhance energy efficiency, and new steps to move away from dependence on fossil fuels. Although China is not yet willing to commit to emissions reduction targets, Chinese leaders have a similar perspective on the climate-change threat and the need for transition to a low-carbon economy. They are also planning to devote stimulus resources to energy efficiency, green technologies and other efforts to build a low-carbon energy infrastructure. 

It is essential that both the Obama administration and the Chinese leadership engage at the highest levels to begin a new programme of significantly scaled-up cooperation on energy and climate change as soon as possible. Successful US-China cooperation on energy and climate security will substantially enhance prospects for a new international climate agreement as well as bolstering political support in each country for climate change mitigation policies. It will also build mutual trust between the United States and China, strengthen the US-China partnership for tackling a wide range of common strategic challenges in the twenty-first century, and be a constructive force in US-China relations at a point in time when the American public is increasingly sceptical of the benefits of bilateral economic integration. 

Banning Garrett is director of the Initiative for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate

Jonathan Adams is assistant director of the Initiative for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate

Homepage photo from White House Photo Office/ Richard Nixon Library.

President Richard Nixon at the Great Wall, February 24, 1972.

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匿名 | Anonymous



Good idea

It is great that China and US will strengthen energy and climate cooperation,however,the road map is not enough,how Obama make the strategic layout and decision-making in the next step is important. The key point is: If Obama has the ability to resist the Senate and House of Representatives, then he will certainly become a great president and lead the US to the brilliant future.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Thinking on Sino-US Energy Cooperation

If Obama hopes to pull the economy out of recession by way of Green Revolution, he will necessarily need the support of China. But as far as China's energy strategy is concerned, "on one hand, domestically, China has increased input in new energy developement, and we had an enormous input in developing nuclear energy, wind power, and solar energy (The country will need to pay more attention to the development of electric automobiles); on the other hand, we are trying to cope with the international oil market. After all, it is not possible to completely replace oil with new energy in near future, say ten or eight years time".

(translated by xiulu)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The importance of climate issues is growing

For Obama, climate change, energy dependence and US national security are mutually influential, and he will want to seize the right to speak on climate change back from the EU. Therefore, for the US, energy and climate change have become an important diplomatic issue now.
(Translated by Tian Liang)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


第二,美国和中国分别是世界上最大的发达国家和发展中国家,两个最大的能源消耗国和最大的温室气体排放国,又都没有实质性参与碳减排。波恩会议上美国的首席谈判代表说,美国将只认同在“政治上和技术上可以实现的”的减排,而中国一直坚持其发展中国家身份不参与实质性减排 。这些共同点将促成两国在碳外交中加强合作。

The expections for Sino-US carbon diplomacy

From the perspective of international politics,it's unrealistic to draw up the rules in climate change area without the political agreement and participation of both China and the US. There are three points for China treasuring its diplomacy with America, who is still outside of the emission reduction systme:

Firstly,China and US have cooperated closely against the economic crunch and this is becuase China has made a lot of positive efforts,e.g. buy Treasury bonds ,hold a higher yuan rate for a long time,which makes US argue that economic turmoil, as a result of the mortgage crisis, will be alleviated with China's assistance. So,China received a great diplomatic opportunity,which could raise mutual identity for Sino-US carbon diplomacy.

Secondly,As the largest developed country and the largest developing country in the world,China and US are the two largest energy consumption countries and green house emission countries,and haven't participated in the carbon emission substantially.In Bonn conference,the chief negotiator of US said,America will agree with the emission which could achieved in politics and technology,and China is inclined to carry out the substantial emission as a developing country all the time.The common ground mention above will push two countries to cooperate in the carbon diplomacy.

Third, on condition that EU has boost the climate agreement unilaterally,China and US will work together to restrict EU' dominant voice in the carbon diplomacy.

Fourth,China could follow the example of US ,and think of the necessity and feasibility to quit the multilateral emission reduction,so that we can think before act,if the international agreement accomplished this year won't up to China' national interest.

By Li Wei,a PhD student of international law,
majoring in international environmental law and
legal economics.

(Translated by Tian Liang)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



New Trend of Bialteral Carbon diplomatic between China and America

From April to June in 2009, John Kerry-Chief of Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Nancy Pelosi-President of the senate, Timothy Geithner-Treasury Secretary and Jonathan Pershing-Special Envoy of Climate Change visited China in succession, with the core issue revolving around energy and climate changing solution. It shows the common will between two countries to strengthen bilateral cooperation in this area, in order to solve the problem of the future distribution of right of speak in the multilateral emission reduction. Jonathan Pershing, Special Envoy of Climate Change, said America will not ask large developing countries like China to take part in substantial emission reduction before 2020. On 5th July, 2009, during the meeting of dealing with climate change by Chinese Leading Group and energy-saving work, Premier Wen Jiabao emphasis that China will set the restrictive indicator of carbon emission intensity in the Twelfth Five Year Plan. We can find, beyond multilateral framework, China and the United States are trying to seek cooperation through compromise and to design the right of leading speak suitable for the international position of two countries for Post-Kyoto Era. Commented by Li Wei, Doctor of International Law in East China University of Political Science and Law
Translated by Liang Zhang