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Heating Chinese cities while enhancing air quality

David Benazeraf

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China’s district heat network – which supplies heat from central locations – is the world’s largest: in 2015, it consumed more energy than all of the United Kingdom. But district heating is also major source of air pollution in many Chinese cities. The beginning of the winter season usually coincides with a surge in air pollution, mostly due to coal-fired boilers used in commercial heat production.

Heat in China is considered a public commodity that should be available and affordable, especially in the northern half of China, which needs heating up to six months per year. On an annual basis, pollutant emissions from coal-fired district heating represent between 3% and 5% of total energy-related pollutants nationwide. But northern cities are much more affected, as pollution from heating is concentrated there.

District energy systems are currently mostly fuelled by coal. In 2016, 33% of total floor area was heated by coal-fired boilers for commercial heat production, and co-generation (mostly coal) accounted for 51%, the rest coming from gas and other sources.

As part of the fight against air pollution, and more generally the goal of developing a less energy- and carbon-intensive economy, the Chinese government is strongly encouraging provinces and municipalities to clean up air quality through various measures. During the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October this year, President Xi pledged to build a “beautiful China” with a clean environment. Important impacts are expected with actions taken at the local level, including recent plans announced by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and other government departments aiming at cutting coal consumption for heating by 150 million tonnes in five years (2017-2022).

With the phase-out of coal-fired boilers progressing, China’s central heating fuel mix is already changing rapidly. China has ample resources to diversify the heating mix with cleaner coal use and alternative fuels, including excess heat from industry and better use of combined heat and power (CHP) capacity. Gas for heating is developing rapidly and reached 15% of surface covered by district heating in 2016 (including 3% for gas co-generation). For example, urban areas in Beijing are now entirely fuelled by four large gas co-generation plants. But around 80% of the natural gas consumed for district heating was concentrated in six provinces. More responsive supply and storage capacity are needed to cope with this significant increase in gas use for heating.

Renewables such as geothermal and biomass also have room to develop further: currently, renewable sources only contribute to about 1% of district heating, compared to 28% in the European Union. Establishing fuel supply chains for agricultural residues could contribute to scaling up biomass for district energy, especially in areas with local or nearby resources and limited supplies of coal or natural gas.

Urbanisation and greater demand for thermal comfort will continue to increase the need for heating in China. Integration between heat planning and urban planning is essential, as well as optimising the efficiency of existing systems through improved resource management and heat mapping. For instance, overheating and network losses represent around 20% of total heat production. Floor area in China is projected to increase another 40% by 2050, reaching more than 80 billion square meters, from 57 billion m² today.

The Chinese government laid out the main orientations for China’s urban development in 2013, including a plan to rebalance urban growth by limiting urban sprawl and increasing densification of cities. The building sector offers large room for greater efficiency, both for new construction and also from renovation of existing construction.

District energy systems are very dependent on local circumstances and resources. Locally based and tailored solutions associated with adequate market conditions can contribute to further decarbonise, optimise and diversify district energy systems in the Chinese context.

Source: IEA

East Asia

Korean Conciliation: Will it Last?

Georgy Toloraya

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2018 started with a sensation in Asia – a “New Year’s gift,” if we are to use the words of Ri Son-Gwon, head of North Korea’s delegation at the inter-Korean talks held on January 9, 2018 in the South Korean segment of the demilitarized zone in Panmunjom.

In his traditional New Year’s speech, supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un proposed that an inter-Korean dialogue be launched. The proposal was timed to the participation of North Korean athletes in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Moon Jae-in’s government agreed immediately, which is understandable: the President of South Korea needs a success to increase his domestic political support. He also needs “join the game” on the peninsula, the stakes in which (peace or war) have been set over recent months by the United States and North Korea, without the participation of South Korea.

The talks (the first since 2013) are being held at the highest possible level (ministers in charge of the relevant matters from both countries), which allows the parties to discuss all manner of problems, and not just those related to sports. The results of the first round instil a certain amount of optimism.

In addition to North Korean athletes (who may even walk out under the same flag as their counterparts from the South) being allowed to participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics, the two Koreas also agreed that a North Korean governmental delegation, a demonstration taekwondo team, fans and a support group comprised of dancers and musicians could also attend. In total, an estimated 500 people will travel to South Korea. Perhaps, as we have seen in the past, the occasion will be used to develop political contacts both between the North and the South and between North Korea and the United States.

The agreement to restore the communications hotline between the militaries of the two countries (which the North Koreans cut it in 2013) and hold military consultations to reduce tensions was sensational news. Humanitarian and sports exchanges are expected to be stepped up.

It is also important that the two parties have outlined the prospects of continuing high-level consultations. Moreover, on January 10, President Moon said that an inter-Korean summit was possible. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that both parties confirmed their respect for former agreements which had been ignored for the last decade by South Korea’s conservative administrations.

What caused such an unexpected turn of events, which has given hope for a détente on the Korean peninsula?

The initiative is in the hands of North Korea. Kim Jong-un played a brilliant diplomatic gambit, breaking out (at least temporarily) of a seemingly hopeless dead-end where he had been driven by international sanctions stemming from his country’s nuclear missile programme. The entire world welcomes news of his initiative to ensure a safe and successful Olympic Games. Having played the “South Korean card,” Pyongyang used it as a “vent” to reduce pressure in the “Korean cauldron” by eroding the united front of its enemies. China and Russia eagerly supported these initiatives, and South Korea is on now on Pyongyang’s side as well, as it is extremely interested in the dialogue being a success. This means South Korea will be against initiatives to increase the pressure on North Korea and oppose Washington’s belligerent threats. Pyongyang has thus weakened the United States–South Korea military union. South Korea will no longer follow in the wake of the U.S. policy of coercion, which had made the country hostage to a possible military operation spearheaded by the United States. And Japan is unlikely to be particularly active, breathing a sigh of relief at the reduced threat of war that would inevitably hit it too.

The unprecedented regime of sanctions and isolation imposed on North Korea, the principal “achievement” U.S. diplomacy attained in the last few months (at the cost of an uncompromising dialogue with both allies and dissenters, including China and Russia), is now also up in the air. South Korea has already announced it will be limiting the sanctions due to the Olympics, and this creates an unpleasant precedent for the United States. Is there any reason why Russia or China should not organize a North Korea-related event that would also justify exceptions? And calls for new sanctions on the part of Washington will hardly be embraced in an atmosphere of dialogue. It is no coincidence that the United States appears to have lost hope in the United Nations. It now seems to be thinking about creating a “coalition of the willing” to defeat North Korea, choosing the “willing” from its allies.

The United States was forced to back down. The American leaders abruptly changed their tone: President Trump, who had recently rebuked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for “wasting time” in trying to negotiate with North Korea, suddenly announced that he had always favoured negotiations and that the inter-Korean dialogue had started because of his efforts since Kim Jong-un was allegedly scared of pressure. Even avowed “hawks,” such as Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, suddenly started to pay lip service to political solutions. Moreover, plans for a “limited” strike against North Korea which, according to The Wall Street Journal, have been secretly discussed within the U.S. administration, are now hanging in mid-air.

Kim Jong-un has thus scored a tactical victory. In fact, the Russia-China proposal of a “double freeze” – stopping North Korean tests in exchange for restricting U.S.–South Korea military drills – was implemented at his initiative. The United States had already postponed the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills until after the Olympics. The postponement and possible modification of drills are conducive to the world getting used to North Korea’s nuclear status.

Using inter-Korean relations in this manner is a tried and tested manoeuvre on the part of Pyongyang. The method was first employed back in the early 1970s during a period of détente between the Soviet Union and the United States, when South Korea was searching for “approaches” to North Korea’s allies, and when North Korea was attempting to gain economic aid from developed western countries. North Korea probably tested the manoeuvre in order to decrease its dependence on the great powers, and South Korea played into its hand. On July 4, 1972, unexpectedly for many, the North and the South published a Joint Statement recording the principles of the country’s unification, which was to be achieved independently, peacefully and democratically, on the basis of national consolidation [1].

Later, for declarative purposes, the North proposed the idea of creating a confederation based on the principle of “one nation, one state (with a single national government) – two systems, two regional governments.” In the 1990s, the idea was augmented with the principles of consolidating the nation, national sovereignty, patriotism and the struggle against external interventions [2].

Pyongyang pulled the same trick in the early 1990s. The country was in crisis at the time: political ties with Russia had been severed; Russia had cut economic assistance to the country; and the United States and South Korea had stepped up pressure on the North, believing that North Korea was about to collapse and preparations should be made for “subsuming” the country “German style.” North Korea played a double game: on the one hand, it accelerated its nuclear missile programme, which had been conceived as a “deterrent” against foreign intervention; on the other, it played the “Korean unity” card, signing the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation between the South and the North.

Pyongyang strove to drive a similar “wedge” between South Korea and the United States during the “liberal decade” (during presidencies of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun). At the 2000 and 2007 summits, Pyongyang and Seoul attained a consensus on the prospects of separate state-building with growing economic and later cultural integration of the two states. As a result, South Korea in essence started acting as North Korea’s principal global sponsor and advocate, unseating China in that role. South Korea’s economic aid became the principal factor in North Korea’s “survival,” and the role of the United States dropped, causing its displeasure.

Washington is hardly pleased with Seoul’s current pro-active stance, although Seoul is protecting its own existential interests and is striving to prevent a war. As far as the United States is concerned, Seoul’s consent to North Korea’s nuclear status, as well as its cooperation with North Korea, are unacceptable. Although Moon Jae-in tried to convince Trump otherwise during their recent telephone conversation.

We can thus assume that the United States will undermine the inter-Korean dialogue. For starters, massive pressure will be put on Seoul to push the nuclear issue to the centre of the talks, which is patently unacceptable for North Korea. At the very first meeting, North Korea’s representative put a definitive stop to all such approaches by the South Korean side. He stressed that North Korean missiles are aimed not at South Korea, Russia or China (a reminder to the great powers of North Korea’s new status and capabilities), but at the United States, and North Korea hold talks on that subject with the United States. Apparently, in the current situation, the United States cannot avoid such a dialogue. The policy of pressure and blockade and threats of force essentially failed.

Will that last? It would seem that the forces hostile to North Korea will soon regroup. They grudgingly consented to the moratorium on military drills for the duration of the Olympics, but they will hardly let this hiatus last any longer, especially since the pretext of “strengthening defence capacities against the crazy regime” is always at the ready, since they are fully cognizant that such provocations will prompt a response from North Korea (for instance, new underwater missile launches or another nuclear test) and that will warrant a return to the customary tactics of isolation and an economic blockade.

That is, unless a miracle happens and the two Koreas achieve a breakthrough in their talks on cooperation and reconciliation, thereby forcing the United States to agree to a semblance of a compromise. At least until the situation escalates once again.

The active stance of China and Russia is of crucial importance for a positive scenario. Russia should make the Korean issue one of the crucial points in its relations with the United States, insisting that the U.S. obstruction of the diplomatic process is unacceptable. In particular, Russia should strive to reduce the scope of possible military drills and move them to regions far removed from the North Korean border and push for the United States to engage in a direct dialogue with North Korea as soon as possible. Russia may also offer the two Koreas a venue for a summit – in Vladivostok or Irkutsk, for example, since, for security reasons, Kim Jong-un cannot travel to the South and he hardly wants to travel to China, and because holding a third successive summit in North Korea is fraught with political costs for the South Korean leader.

  1. G. Toloraya. The Republic of Korea. Moscow: Mysl, 1990, p. 44.
  2. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Moscow: Nauka, 1985, pp. 260–262; Nodon sinmun, Pyongyang, 7.4.1993.

First published in our partner RIAC

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East Asia

China winning another great power as strategic partner

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Authors: Aaron Dignam & Sean Connolly*

At the invitation of President Xi Jinping, President of France, Emmanuel Macron, paid a state visit to China during 8-10 January, 2018.Evidently, China attaches great attention to his visit as the Chinese FM spokesman used three “firsts” to describe President Macron’s visit to China: this is the first foreign head of state China receives in the year 2018, and also the first head of state of a EU member state visiting China after China’s 19th CPC Congress. Meanwhile, this is Macron’s first state visit to China after he assumed the French Presidency.Accordingly, it is fair to say that Macron’s visit is significant for the China-France and China-Europe relations in the new era.

France has been a great power of Europe but has had extensive influence around the world. For example, the French Revolution had great impact on Chinese political and intellectual elites. Since the WWII, both China and France have been the members of the United Nations Security Council, and later entered the nuclear powers club. In light of this, China has cooperated with France on the international issues including the Korean peninsula. In 2017, President Xi reiterated over the phone talks with President Macron that China would like to cooperate closely with France to support global governance efforts and contribute to its major achievements, such as “the Paris Agreement” which deals with the mitigation of global greenhouse gas emission.As the Paris agreement went into effect later, French FM Laurent Fabius called this ambitious and well-adjusted plan “a historic turning point in the goal of reducing global warning”. As for global governance in the 21st century, China has advocated globalization as it is the framework under which its unprecedented development continues to unfold. President Macron hasalso considered globalization to be a positive force, which provides many opportunities for growth and development. Due to this, Chinese media, such as Weibo and Wechat, displayed expressions of the Chinese people’s consistent preference for Macron because France under him may promote stronger cooperative links between China and the EU.

China’s empathy with France also comes from the fact that France was the first major power in the West to recognize the legitimacy of the Beijing government at ambassadorial level. This is very crucial to China because it is an ancient society based on legitimacy. Since then, the two sides have played an important role in making international relations more sound and democratic. Recently, the China-France Comprehensive Strategic Partnership has been developing at a high standard and in a sound and steady way.This time, the two countries agree to inject new impetus into the development of the comprehensive strategic partnership through enhancing the consensus and cooperation. To Chinese perspective, France is still a great power with global dimensions, especially in the fields of culture, education, nuclear energy and aerospace technology. As President Macron said on January in Beijing,France attaches importance to strengthening bilateral cooperation under the “Belt and Road” framework and he opines it is of high strategic significance. At present, the EU is facing new development, and France stands ready to actively promote EU-China cooperation for constant and forward-looking development.

Equally, China has cherished the bilateral ties with France and it also endorsed European integration from its inception. After Brexit became a reality in 2016, China consistently and clearly supported “the EU speaking with one voice”. Indeed, a French version of Brexit would have disastrous consequences for the Euro currency. It is the priority for China to maintain more open and stable financial markets as a proper environment for the French economic development. Consider that nearly 1/3 of Chinese foreign currency reserves being held in Euros, a fall of the Euro’s exchange rate would lower the value of Chinese foreign currency assets, along with the value of all investments made in the Euro-zone. Since China tends to view the Euro as a balancing currency against the U.S. dollar, it is in China’s interests to sustain strong overall relationships with the EU. As one of the key co-players of the EU, France welcomes a prosperous and dynamic China with a view that “the huge Eurasian region between France and China should become a community of interests, responsibility and shared destiny.” In this setting, France may be more instrumental in balancing against the U.S. hegemony, thus contributing to the strategic goals of China.

Undoubtedly, to the French who openly question the rise of China with their fingers pointed to the trade disputes, human rights issues and the others, President Macron has to be more patient in dealing with all the outstanding issues. Yet, as he said previously, “you can’t dislike the Chinese who buy airbus, and dislike those who invest in the airport.”In light of this, Macron has been highly praised as a standard-bearer of the European Union and a promoter of globalization. Both the continuity of European integration and the perception of globalization as a positive force in the EU are important factors for China. As Xi said when jointly meeting the press,China firmly supports the integration of Europe and welcomes France’s greater contribution to China-Europe ties. In his response, Macron said China enjoys great strength in artificial intelligence, and the two countries’ cooperation on promising sectors will yield a positive influence.

Sure, Macron’s three-day state visit to China ends, yet both powers have demonstrated the strong interest in having an in-depth exchange of their views in order to move forward China-France relations in the new era.

(*) Sean Connolly, MA in IR & Public Affairs, Jilin University

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East Asia

From Panmunjom truce zone to Pyeongchang winter game

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Head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon shakes hands with South Korean counterpart Cho Myoung-gyon7. January 9, 2018. © Reuters

Authors: Wang Li & Yang Yi-zhong

After the two-year stalemate between North Korea and South Korea, the warm air seems to return to the Korean Peninsula. According to the latest news from two Koreas, the two sides have kicked off their first high-level talks since 2015. Just previously, the Korean peninsula was from time to time nearly moving towards the brink of the nuclear war.

For the decades, China has reiterated that it welcomes any positive trend on the Korean Peninsula, as long as the relevant parties of the Korean Peninsula issue can take sincere attitudes to work for the shared goal and make concrete effort to ease tensions in the region, bring the issue back to the right track of peaceful settlement through dialogue and realize the denuclearization of the Peninsula.To that end, China has closely worked with the parties involved.

During the state visit of President Moon Jae-in of ROK to China in December 2017, President Xi Jinping held talks with him in light of the principles of respecting each other’s core interests and major concerns and to promote sound and healthy development of the strategic cooperation. The two leaders agreed to cement bilateral political mutual trust and enhance communication and coordination on international and regional affairs. Regarding the Korean Peninsula situation, Xi reiterated that China and ROK must firmly adhere to the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and no war or chaos is allowed on the Peninsula. Due to this, China can accept only that the Peninsula would be resolved through dialogue and consultation, with readiness to support the two sides on the Peninsula in improving relations through dialogue and contact. Moon Jae-in reaffirms that the ROK is firmly committed to resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue through peaceful means, and stands ready to work with China to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the region. As a result, on January 8, 2018, Seoul formally announced that the United States and the ROK have agreed to delay joint military exercise during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Here, it makes no sense to argue which country has played the key role in facilitating the high-level dialogue between the two Koreas. Rather, consider the geopolitical and cultural links,China’s stance in response to the situation on the Korean Peninsula is always that itsincerely welcomes and supports the DPRK and the ROK’s recent positive moves to improve their relations. It also indicates that the international community can give its support and work together to find a viable path to easing tensions, enhancing mutual trust and resuming dialogue.China’s insistence on the dialogue is due to the nature of diplomacy and the core interests of China that has been involved in the Korean Peninsula crisis.

First, China deems that states can receive so much benefit from uninterrupted negotiations, if they are conducted with sincerity and prudence. As the classical diplomacy argues, it is absolutely necessary to the well-being of the state to negotiate ceaselessly, either openly or secretly, and on all occasions, even in those from which no present fruits are reaped and still more in those for which no future prospects as yet seem likely. Actually, negotiations are innocuous remedies which never do harm. Today, under the complex and sensitive circumstances on the Peninsula, China has spoken in a rational and calm manner, worked on various parties and promoted peace talks.Second, in international politics, lesser powers are clearly as careful and diligent in involving the great powers in treaty or moral obligations as they are feeble in aiding them, although they are fully obligated to do so. Historically, they frequently put themselves above obligations to those they have committed to the cause perhaps against their will.

As the closest neighbor to the two Koreas, China appeals to diplomacy because it has called persistently on all relevant parties to play their collective role and fulfill due responsibility. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has been strictly implementing all resolutions adopted by the Security Council and also have in place a set of functional mechanisms and practices to ensure that relevant resolutions are carried out effectively. Since peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.We can’t expect that North Korea will change or abandon its nuclear plan in a short term, but all sides concerned can exercise mutually-respected efforts to persuade the Pyongyang leaders to return to the negotiation table. In light of this, the denuclearization issue was predicted to be put on the dialogue agenda during future inter-Korean talks as the eventual goal would be the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As President Moon said recently, “the spirit of the United Nations is to realize global peace through multilateral dialogue, and the Korean Peninsula is where that spirit is most desperately needed.”

The resumed talks on January 8 were at a very initial stage, thus the two countries were unable to talk about the eventual goal of denuclearization. However, the most important thing is to “keep a momentum” for dialogue between the two Koreas as a first step in the right direction. China has endorsed the talks, saying that the most important role of diplomacy is to come up with fundamental measures to stop the vicious cycle of increased provocations from the DPRK and the sanctions from the world community. Due to this, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is not only a sport game but also plays a pivotal role in encouraging dialogue on the peninsula.

Ideally, it would naturally create an atmosphere for denuclearization talks.

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