Will China Save the Planet? Book Review
Barbara Finamore has been involved in environmental policy in China for decades. Her new book, Will China Save the Planet?,is a succinct report (120 pg.) on the short, yet promising history of China’s actions to address climate change and pollution.
Chapter 1 is about the recent global leadership role that China has taken in the fight against climate change. At first, the PRC was hesitant to commit to specific pollution-reduction benchmarks. After experiencing increasingly devastating bouts of industrial smog in the 1990s however, China began to take its environmental commitments more seriously. It has set out to become the de facto leader in combatting climate change through ambitious domestic action and sponsoring international conferences. The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement has only furthered China’s dominance.
Chapters 2-4 give in-depth analysis on China’s efforts to wean itself off of coal, develop its renewable energy capacity and become a global leader in electric vehicle production. China has long used coal to fuel its unprecedented rate of industrialization. In recent years, it has pledged to wean itself off of coal dependency by enforcing coal plant efficiency standards, enacting a cap-and-trade program, managing grid output, promoting local politicians based on their success in implementing green policies and supporting green energy developments. China is now home to many of the world’s top manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and commercial & private electric vehicles.
There is much to applaud China for in its efforts. Finamore writes that, “After growing by an average of 10% annually from 2002-2012, China’s coal consumption leveled off in 2013 & decreased in each of the following three years… Largely because of the dip in China’s coal consumption, global CO2 emissions growth was basically flat between 2014-2016.” By moving away from coal, China has been able to, “Every hour… erects a new wind turbine & installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.” As of last year, “Chinese solar manufacturers accounted for about 68% of global solar cell production & more than 70% of the world’s production of solar panels.”
Chapter 5 focuses on China’s mission to export its green initiatives around the world, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is shaping up to be the largest international infrastructure plan in history, investing trillions of dollars in 65 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. China thus has a golden chance to help much of the developing world to adopt clean energy goals and foster economic growth. The Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to invest in renewable energy initiatives in the BRI countries by implementing a “green finance” system. Through its pivotal role in the G20, China can also help to lead the developed world by spearheading reports and policies among the 20 member nations.
Barbara Finamore has written a highly readable and informative overview of China’s role in the global climate change battle. She lists the Chinese government policies that have led the world’s largest nation to meet and exceed many of the green benchmarks that it set for itself. It would have been helpful if Finamore had written more about China’s water instability and how that ties to the Tibetan occupation, as access to drinking water is one of the top environmental issues in the world today. As a whole, Will China Save the Planet?is a good primer for environmental policy analysts and anyone else interested in studying feasible solutions to climate change, humanity’s greatest threat.
China’s Game in the Arctic: A Tale of Deception?
In the past years, the Arctic has been drawing attention for the economic, strategic, and geopolitical implications that are deriving from its exposure to increasing temperatures. As the thawing of its ice cap, increase in sea levels and loss of ice gives rise to environmental concerns, this scenario has opened the door to both, new opportunities and tensions. The region that proved to be of tremendous importance throughout the Cold War, serving as a frontier between the Soviet Union and NATO and becoming one of the most militarized regions of the world (Huebert, 2019, p. 2), is remerging as a strategic trigger point. On the one hand, its untapped natural resources make it appealing for geopolitical and economic reasons. The presence of non-combustible minerals, industrial resources and the sea lanes of communication (SLOCS) that surround the region, together with the improved conditions for its extraction have caught the attention of neighboring States (Sharma, 2021). In fact, the projected volume of the Arctic’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves is believed to amount to 22% of the world’s undiscovered resources that can be harvested with the existing technology (Turunen, 2019). Thus, the access to these resources has the potential to ensure energy security for those States with legitimacy for its exploitation. On the other hand, the current climatic conditions have cleared the way for new navigational routes in the region. Whereas maritime routes such as the Northwest Passage (NWP) and the Northern Sea Route (NSR) are only operational for few months of the year, researchers have estimated that by 2040-2059 they might be free from Arctic ice (Smith & Stephenson, 2013). Hence, the commercial viability of the, so called, “polar Mediterranean” (Roucek, 1983) can minimize by almost a half the shipping time and maritime distance travelled between East Asia and Western Europe via the Panama or Suez Canals (Herrmann, 2019).
In this power play, with the Arctic attracting the attention of States that are quite far from the region, tensions regarding its governance are surfacing. Differently to what happens with Antarctica, the Artic is not a global common and no treaty regulates its legal framework. Aiming to ensure their claim over the region, the original Arctic Five (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) issued the Ilulissat Declaration, which reiterated their sovereign rights and jurisdiction over large areas of the Arctic Ocean (Sharma, 2021). This gave rise to questions concerning the rights left to non-Arctic nations to influence the region. Whistle this question remains unanswered, China is creeping into the region.
Since the Asian country conducted its first Arctic expedition, in 1999, and built its first research base, known as the “Yellow River Station” in 2004, it has progressively increased its investment (Lean, 2020). Nevertheless, from 2010 onwards, its pursue to be acknowledged as an Arctic stakeholder placed the region high in its foreign policy agenda. In 2013, its strategy began to pave the way for its endeavor and the PRC went from being a peripheral partner to being granted observer status in the Arctic Council (Chater, 2021). Little after, in 2018, Beijing published a white paper titled “China’s Arctic Policy” wherein it is described as a “near-Arctic state”, marking the first steps of its statecraft efforts to shape the region to its advantage (Lean, 2020). Thereafter, Beijing’s policy towards the Arctic is based on multilateral alliances and win-win gains between the players involved, which could eventually support China’s claim overt its legitimate presence in the region (Hossein, 2019, p. 4). In this regard, the State’s involvement in the Arctic has been directed at expanding its footprint in the economic and scientific fields. Pertaining to the former, in 2013 “MV Yong Sheng”, a Chinese commercial ship embarked on the first trip from a Chinese port to Rotterdam via the NSR (Jian, Thor & Tillman, 2018, p. 347). Ever since, Russia and China have collaborated closely to benefit from the melting of the Arctic and establish a safe and commercially viable transport corridor through the NSR (Lean, 2020). These ambitions were crystallized with the release of China’s “Vision for Maritime Cooperation Under the Belt and Road Initiative” in 2017, thereby reaffirming its desire to extend the BRI to the Arctic so as to connect Europe and Asia trough what was labelled as the “Polar Silk Road” (Manenti, 2017). Arctic shipping routes are estimated to be 40% cheaper than traditional ones (Baldassarri, 2014) and bearing in mind that the Asian country executes 90% of its trade through maritime transport, the advantage is considerable (Hossein, 2019, p. 4). Moreover, the diversification of routes might bring an end to China’s “Malacca Dilemma”. This refers to the vulnerability to a naval blockade and the lack of alternatives that China has to endure as consequence of the deteriorating relations with India and the power that the US Navy exerts over the Strait of Malacca, which currently accounts for 80% of its trade with Europe (Paszak, 2021). Similarly, China’s scientific research and cooperation with Arctic countries is a core component of its policy towards the region. Seeking to strengthen its legal right to expand its role and access to the Arctic, Beijing has resorted to science diplomacy (Sharma, 2021). Since purchasing the Xuelong icebreaker in 1993, the PRC has conducted more than 12 expeditions (Xinhua, 2021) and has strengthened the maintenance and construction of research, ice and satellite stations, vessels, icebreakers and other supporting platforms in the region. However, there might be more to it than scientific research.
The belief among Chinese strategists and scholars that the US is using the Arctic as a, yet another, front in its anti-China containment and concerns over the increasing security competition make China’s scientific interest in the region something that seizes no small amount of attention. Thereafter, while Chinese expeditions might be disguised as purely civilian research, a closer scrutiny reveals the dual implications (civilian and military) of most of its research programs (Lean, 2020). As an example, the People’s Liberation Army Navy decision to dispatch vessels to Arctic and US waters, including a fleet oiler, surface combatants, amphibious warships and a guided-missile destroyer and frigate, among others, together with the recourse to polar-orbiting military satellites, fails to justify their supposedly “purely civilian aspirations” (Dale-Huang, Doshi & Zhang, 2021, p. 29). In a similar manner, the testing and deployment of dual-use assets such as underwater robots, buoys for monitoring air-sea interactions, cloud-based online platforms, autonomous underwater glider and polar fixed-wing aircrafts evidence how Beijing is working towards its autonomy from foreign satellites and stations for Arctic data (Lean, 2020). What’s more, there are signs that herald China’s desire to invest in nuclear-powered icebreakers, which could ultimately lead to the transfer of that technology to military vessels (Dale-Huang, Doshi & Zhang, 2021, p. 30). Thus, the ongoing “weaponization of science” by the PRC has raised the alarms among Arctic littorals which have condemned the dual purpose of its activities (Buchanan & Glaser, 2022).
At this point, the question of whether Chinese ulterior motives for accessing the Arctic are realistic and attainable might come up. In this regard, everything seems to suggest that Beijing’s interests in the region are likely long-term. It is important to bear in mind that the Arctic is not the South China Sea, its number one priority together with Taiwan, with which the PCR has historic ties and is exercising a more aggressive policy. Moreover, the aftermath of the covid pandemic and its economic headwinds have slowed down operations in the region. Nonetheless, China still wants a seat at the table in deciding the Arctic’s future and, therefore, is expected to persist with its pursue of dual-use scientific research and protection of commercial interests. In fact, part of its strategy might be to quietly keep on establishing itself as a near-Arctic state, similarly to what it first did to advance its territorial ambitions towards the South China Sea (Grady, 2022). In the midst of the increasing tensions between Beijing and its Western counterparts the future of its Arctic agenda will presumably become “ever more salient to the future of trade, sustainable development, and international security” (Buchanan & Glaser, 2022). As a matter of fact, the best example of the seriousness with which major players in the region are reacting to China’s advance in the Arctic is found in the shift of the US Arctic policy. The new strategy released in October 2022, which complements NATOS’s, calls for the enhancement of military exercises, the expansion of the US’ military presence in Alaska and NATO States and the compromise to rebuild its icebreaking fleet (Grady, 2022). Few months later, in February 2023, US-led military exercises in the Arctic, hosted by Norway and Finland, brought together more than 10,000 military personnel from the UK, US, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Finland (Bridenthal, 2023). Likewise, Denmark, owing to what the country’s Foreign Policy has described as “a new geopolitical battlefield”, has reviewed its security policy, increasing its military budget with the “Arctic capacity package” aimed at intensifying surveillance with radar, drones and satellites (Grady, 2022). In this increasingly assertive scenario, that resembles that of the Cold War, the Arctic is swiftly emerging as a region of militarized power politics.
China’s Ascendancy and its Influence on Global Structure
The rise of China is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most significant geopolitical movements that have emerged in the twenty-first century. This transformation of a civilization that was mostly agricultural into a worldwide economic powerhouse has had a great impact on the existing order of the international system, with repercussions extending from the economic sphere into the geopolitical sphere as well as the cultural sphere.
As a direct consequence of China’s progress, the global economic environment has been subjected to a fundamental adjustment. As a result of its fast industrialization and vast population, it has established itself as the world’s leading exporter and the world’s second-largest importer. China has been able to exercise a significant amount of influence on global trade and financial institutions as a result of its size and economic weight. As a result, China is often in a position to dictate the terms of trade agreement conditions and decide the course of global economic policy. In addition, China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to build a modern-day Silk Road by creating land and sea trade links between Asia, Africa, and Europe, implies that Beijing plans to strengthen its economic domination worldwide. The Belt and Road Initiative aspires to create a modern-day Silk Road by constructing trade connections between Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The growth of China has caused a shift in the geopolitical balance of power, which has the effect of challenging the United States’ long-standing hegemonic position. As a consequence of China’s substantial investments in the advancement of its military technology and capabilities, other strong nations are worried about the nation’s intentions. Its belligerent stance in border conflicts, particularly those in the South China Sea, is a sign of the country’s rising military confidence. As China takes on more responsibilities inside international bodies and creates strategic relationships, especially with undeveloped governments, its diplomatic power has been growing at an impressive pace.
The emergence of China has also had a substantial effect on the country’s cultural traditions. The media, the language, and the culture of China are now having an outsized impact on other parts of the world. One indication of this cultural diffusion is the proliferation of Confucius Institutes, which are institutions committed to promoting the development of Chinese language and culture. This cultural impact is shown by the growing popularity of Chinese literature, cinema, and food on a worldwide scale.
Nevertheless, issues have been brought to light as a result of China’s ascent. Concerns have been raised over China’s compliance with democratic values, human rights, and international agreements, as well as concerns regarding China’s intention to overtake the United States as the leading superpower in the world.
As a result of China’s ascent to power, there are a few potential outcomes for the direction of the existing order in the world:
The United States and China would work together to maintain the existing order in the world and develop satisfactory solutions to the many urgent problems facing the planet in this potential outcome. The stability of the globe might be preserved by doing this, despite the fact that it would require considerable sacrifices on both sides.
Competition between the United States and China: If these two countries were to have a conflict, it would be much like the cold war all over again. Unpredictability and instability are some outcomes that might occur from such an event.
If China were to take over from the United States as the dominant force in the world, the existing system of international relations would experience profound upheaval. Even while it is hard to foresee the consequences of this scenario, there would unquestionably be enormous shifts in the power relations that exist on a worldwide scale.
The emergence of China has unquestionably had an effect on the rest of the world, notwithstanding the unpredictability that surrounds the country’s future prospects. As a result, it is of the utmost importance for countries all over the globe to devise strategies that will enable them to navigate this turbulent terrain with composure and success, so assuring a future that is both wealthy and secure for everyone.
China Expands its Reach to Europe and Africa
For decades, Iran was firmly within the US ambit, but then came the revolution. The Shah, whose family had ruled for over half a century, fled abroad. And following a failed attempt at parliamentary democracy, the Iran Revolutionary Guards led by their cleric masters took over.
While there are elections now and an elected government, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sets the broad outlines of domestic and foreign policy. He also controls the judiciary and is head of the armed forces.
At present, Iran is further strengthening its ties with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) through its observer status with a view presumably to eventual full membership. The SCO embraces almost all of Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and Sri Lanka. It is a vast bloc including the two largest developing economies in the world.
Japan and Taiwan have already expressed their trepidations at China exercising muscle along its littoral regions and the coastal islands down to the Philippines. Their principal concern is for the shipping lanes up which tankers bring fossil fuels to them from the Middle East.
There appears to be no concerted US policy to deal with these issues other than random acts of petulance. Thus the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines exposed by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. It thwarted Germany’s desire for cheap Russian gas transported under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. The result was a point or two drop in German GDP as it scurried to buy liquefied gas from the global market including the US.
If earlier, it had acquired half of its gas from Russia and a third of its oil,the invasion of Ukraine accelerated a move away from Russia. However, everyone is quite aware that when the Ukraine problem dies down, the gas and oil will still be in Russia as will Europe’s hunger for them and the added attraction of low prices. The multiplicity of routes including one via Turkey just across the Black Sea — more than one way to skin a cat as that awful expression goes — add to the temptations.
After all that has happened, is it any wonder Putin gave up on an impotent Europe and went east. So it is that China’s ravenous demand for energy in a fast-growing economy is to be supplied by its neighbor Russia.
China is also constructing roads (the Belt and Road Initiative) along Pakistan’s spine to its newly built (by China) port of Gwadar. It provides a direct road link from China. Of course, Pakistan is an old trusted friend and now dependent ally.
From Gwadar, the Gulf and the Gulf States are a stone’s throw away, and Africa just a hop, skip and a jump. China has been investing in Africa for quite some time and its entrepreneurs have been independently starting businesses there. Now travel just became that much easier — just a two to three day drive instead of the circuitous route across the Indian Ocean and up the Pacific coast.
Who wins? Who loses? It should not be difficult to discern.
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