China

From a highly recommended piece in the FT on the souring of US-China relations (a point I have made elsewhere):

Two interesting takeaways. First, how rapidly public opinion on China has changed:

Opinion has historically been volatile, moving up or down by at least 10% in 2008-2011 and 2012-2016. These swings are rapid, which suggests to me that many voters have no fixed opinion on China. The optimistic take is that today’s deeply unfavourable views could change should the situation improve, and public opinion may not yet act as a constraint on political decision making. The longer tensions remain elevated, the greater the danger these views harden and eventually solidify into something akin to the instinctual distrust of Russia (there is a reason the proto-typical Hollywood villain is Russian).

This matters because of climate change. The foreign policy hawks on Biden’s team clearly see prize US national security intransigence over cooperating on climate change:

Optimistically, we are fast reaching the stage where it will be rational for individual states to pursue a green agenda independent of what the rest of the world does, especially now China has committed to net zero in 2060. It may also be possible for escalating national security tensions to go alongside national decarbonisation. They could become symbiotically linked, with each party racing for energy independence or leadership in green tech.

One of the accepted wisdoms of the last few decades has been that international cooperation is required to get important things done. Its corollary was that the nation-state was materially constrained by international forces beyond its control. These may be less and less true. It is a pressing question for us all and I will return to it again. For a riff on this question from the perspective of the EU, I recommend this debate between Streeck and Tooze in the LRB.

3 thoughts on “China

  1. I visited the Congo rainforest in 2009, where the Wildlife Conservation Society leader described the differences in logging that threatened the local ecology. European logging companies, because their green Euro customers demanded it, logged “sustainably”, although she added, “when you take down a 300 year old mahogany, there’s no replacing that”. The Chinese, on the other hand, having decimated most of their own forests and imposing a moratorium on logging at home, were perfectly happy to clear-cut the African forests, facilitated by their promises of local road-building and school-building and of course huge kickbacks to the Congo’s’ big men. (I was in C-Brazzaville, but the worst of Chinese logging is taking place in C-Kinshasa.)
    Why do we hear so much about rainforest decimation in “the left lung of the world” but not the “right”? I believe it’s because equatorial Africa is so hard to get to and to observe, where it is “hidden” by the vast expanse of the Sahara and coastal nations whose borders are not easily crossed. But even apart from the loss of diversity, I believe the African logging represents as much of a global danger as clearing the Amazon, mainly because it sits between two giant deserts and moderates their effects on the continent, and in turn the world. But that’s only my amateur hypothesis.
    In any case, if China claims an intention to become green in the coming decades, I would hope their intensive clearcutting of the Congolese forests becomes a central part of the conversation.

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    1. And now with a little further reading I see that our American furniture market is fueling the Chinese clear-cutting, so this problem needs to be addressed at home as well

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      1. Hi Stephen,

        The point about logging is great, I wasn’t aware of it. It makes two important points for me. First, we need to think about how pollution is offshored, whether through manufacturing overseas or literally shipping waste elsewhere. Secondly, the collective grain of salt we need to take about pronouncements from the CCP. On the second point I’m optimistic, if only because I think a green transition is in their longer term interest.

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