Authors: Shrey Das & Wang Li
The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was passed in Rio de Janeiro with a vision that the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could be made possible by including a commitment from the developed nations to cut their emissions back to 1990 levels by 2000. At that time, China was a typical developing country as its economic capacity was insignificant in global terms.
Two decades later, by 2011, China had become one of six countries which were responsible for over 70% of the global CO2 emissions; it accounted for 29%, while the U.S. accounted for 16%, the EU for 11%, India for 6%, Russia for 5%, and Japan for 4%.
Climate change is not a ‘normal’ international environmental problem, but rather threatens to cause huge changes in living conditions and challenges existing patterns of energy use and security. Incidentally, a writer such as Kenneth Szabo has irresponsibly referred to China “as one of the dirtiest countries on the planet”, and stated that “China’s lung cancer epidemic is a global problem”. By making such statements, he displayed ignorance and bias by saying that China’s drive for “Green China” was just covering up a less attractive truth as opposed to being a genuine long-term strategy to become an “ecological civilization”. For sure, every person has a right to express one’s opinion, but as an academic or social media personality, one must be cautious and responsible for what is argued, and his/her analyses should be based on a careful study rather than an incomplete one-sided review of the facts.
As both a developing country and a rising power, China has entertained its century-long dream to be transformed into a great power respected all over the world by 2050. It is modern history that has taught the Chinese to struggle for their greatness equal to the European powers and the United States. True, it is self-evident that China’s status as the second largest economy in the world is the result of a long and costly journey, which both the Chinese leaders and people have never denied. Yet, undoubtedly China has also made some remarkable changes, and now through more ambitiously concerted efforts it aspires to catch up with foreign counterparts by planning new national parks and developing more renewable power sources, which are supposed to account for half of all new electricity generation in China. In order to ensure the smooth operation of all projects, the Chinese President Xi Jin-ping in 2013 defined three issues to China’s security in the coming decades; they are nuclear proliferation, cyber-security, and climate change.
As early as 2005, when Xi was the Party Secretary of Zhejiang Province, he put forward that “the lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets.” Later, he reiterated Chinese commitment to becoming an “ecological civilization” at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 by saying that China was both sincere and determined to contribute its share to the success of the Paris Conference. The analytical reasons Xi presented were that in the past few decades, China had seen rapid economic growth and significant improvement in people’s lives. However, this had taken a toll on the environment and resources. Having learned the lesson in a hard way, China has made vigorous ecological endeavors to promote green, circular, and low-carbon growth. In a paradigm shift, China integrated its climate change efforts into the medium- and long-term strategies of economic and social development. Now it has installed a capacity of renewable energy which accounts for 24% of the world’s total, with the newly installed capacity accounting for 42% of the global total. China tops the world in terms of both energy conservation and the utilization of new and renewable energies, such as wind and solar.
For sure, some might be suspicious of the fine words and the efforts by the Chinese leader. Yet anyone with knowledge of Chinese culture would be aware of the ancient Chinese wisdom that “All things live in harmony and grow with nourishments.” Chinese culture values harmony between man and nature through respecting nature. Going forward, ecological endeavors will feature prominently in China’s grand strategy for its 13th Five-Year Development Plan (2016-2020). To that end, China will work hard to implement the vision of innovative, coordinated, green, open, and inclusive ways of development. In doing so, China will, on the basis of technological and institutional innovation, adopt new policy measures to improve industrial mix, build low-carbon energy systems, and create a green and low-carbon transportation and trading market in order to foster a new pattern of modernization featuring harmony between man and nature. In its intended nationally determined goals, China pledges to peak CO2 emissions by around 2030 and will strive to achieve it as soon as possible.
Firstly, the Chinese government has warned against a mentality of zero-sum game, and has expressed the resolve that acting on climate change is not only driven by China’s domestic needs for sustainable development, but is also inspired by its sense of responsibility to fully engage in global governance and to forge a community of shared destiny for human kind. Rather than being region-specific, climate change is a ubiquitous problem affecting all. Given this, President Xi made remarks at the Paris conference that all countries, particularly developed countries, should assume more shared responsibilities for win-win results. Historically and morally speaking, those wealthy countries with a completed process of industrialization should bear the greater burden for carbon emission reductions. Considering that it is imperative to respect differences among countries, especially developing ones, the Chinese government has insisted on the legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve their peoples’ living standards, which should not be denied even when the issue of climate change is being addressed at the global level.
Secondly, China has called on developed countries to honor their commitment, by mobilizing $100 billion each year before 2020 and providing stronger financial support, along with climate-friendly technologies-transfer, to developing countries. Since then, it has taken an active part in international cooperation on climate change. For example, over the years, the Chinese government has earnestly fulfilled its policy commitments of South-South cooperation regarding climate change to support developing countries, especially the least-developed countries, such as landlocked developing countries and small island developing states, in confronting the challenges of climate change. In a show of greater support, China announced in 2015 that it would establish an RMB 20 billion South-South Climate Cooperation Fund. It later launched cooperation projects to set up 10 pilot low-carbon industrial parks, and started 100 mitigation and adaptation programs in other developing countries while providing them with over 1,000 training opportunities on climate change. In addition, China has continued to promote cooperation in such areas as clean energy, disaster prevention and mitigation, ecological protection, climate-smart agriculture, and low-carbon smart cities.
In conclusion, climate change, because of its all –embracing nature and its roots in essential human activities, poses an enormous challenge for international society in which it has and continues to struggle for its sustainable development. Given this, how it is faced will decide China’s destiny as a potential great global power or not. Yet, the impact of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement can also be felt, since it will hamper the efforts of mitigating climate change threats in the Pacific–Asian area. In spite of this, it is unquestionable that as tackling climate change is a shared mission for mankind, all eyes are now on the establishment of an equitable and effective global mechanism on climate change, working for global sustainable development at a higher level and bringing about new international relations featuring win-win cooperation. A combined effort from all nations, developing, semi-developed, and developed, will yield fruitful results. Due to this, China has consistently underscored its commitment to be an “ecological civilization” in a global village, and has equally argued for international consensus, comprehensive and balanced development models, technology-transfer, and more cooperative and transparent strategies. Sure, as French statesman Fabius said, since climate change is a part of global governance, China is ready to play a constructive role and work for a new green civilization and an ecological civilization.
Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China
There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.
Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.
By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.
The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.
China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.
Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.
The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.
A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.
Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question
The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.
Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.
However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.
Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.
During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.
Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.
Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.
If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.
From our partner RIAC
Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?
Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.
One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.
In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.
To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.
The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.
Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.
Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.
From our partner RIAC
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