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If China Plays Her Trump Cards Well, the World Will Win Out As a Whole

published Jan 11, 2019
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In the past several years, China has encountered some tough challenges on a world stage that has become more and more difficult for the country to navigate. But as the Chinese word for crisis shows, one should not overlook the opportunities present in times of danger. For China, there are still some “trump cards” in hand that could pull itself and the world community as a whole out of a difficult spot. With the U.S. abdicating its leadership, China has been trying to step up to lead efforts on global climate governance and low-carbon development.

This is a wise move indeed if we take into consideration of China’s national condition, her current position in the world, and the timing. But China must be careful to play her hand sensibly in order to command strategic high ground in the coming years.

For the first time in decades, China is experiencing an economic slowdown at home. With traditional engines of growth showing signs of weakness, low-carbon development could be the way forward for China in the coming decades. For example, while overall automobile sales had been sagging, more than 1 million new energy vehicles were sold in the first 11 months of the 2018, an increase of 68 percent from the previous year.

Low-carbon development is a revolution in technology, growth model, development path, and governance, on a par with the industrial revolution in the 18th century. Countries that are resolute in seizing this great opportunity will be rewarded handsomely with the entire planet benefiting from a positive spillover effect of historical proportion.

As it happens, the general trend of global decarbonization is very much consistent with China’s strategic goal of building a modern and prosperous country and her dream of rejuvenating her ancient civilization.

Low-carbon development is no doubt crucial to the world that we all live in, of which China is very much a part. Therefore, it’s only natural that there is a high degree of overlap in terms of what the world needs and China’s fundamental interests. Thus, the country should and must seek to make a big difference with regard to low-carbon development. On the issue of global climate change, China should try to become a leading force with positive mindsets. Otherwise, she may lose a valuable historic opportunity to enhance her competitiveness.

Now the question comes down to how.

First of all, someone deficient in thoughts cannot be a giant in action. If China wants to be a torchbearer, she must be guided by an open mind and innovative thinking on ethics, social ideals, visions, and strategic directions.

Second, China must take the initiative to inform people about and promote global governance in the relevant areas. During the negotiations for the Paris Agreement, France led international efforts through its political maneuvering and multilateral coordination. This is the example that China needs to learn and emulate from in the future.

Third, the country needs to take the long view. If someone only looks at what’s in front of her eyes and ignore medium and long-term strategic planning, she’s not fit to play a leading role. At present, the Paris Agreement requires each party to submit a national mid-century strategy for low-GHG emissions by 2020. And China would do well to apply in-depth thinking and research to the design of such a strategy and its effect on government decision-making, business operations, and people’s daily life in China.

Fourth, concrete regulations and measures need to be formulated and implemented in areas such as building energy efficiency, air conditioning standards, electric vehicles, urban transit systems, city transportation systems, urbanization, carbon market, and comprehensive energy efficiency. Their effectiveness must be carefully evaluated. Therefore, we need to learn about enforcement realities, basic data, and relevant incentive measures. We also need to think hard about coordinated measures with regard to fiscal and monetary policies.

Lastly, final assessment of the aforementioned strategies and policies must be conducted, partly by examining the performances of relevant low-carbon technologies, industries, investments, and markets.

If significant progresses are not made in these five areas, it would be very difficult for China to claim a leading role on global climate governance in the next five years.

When talking about China’s role in the world’s low-carbon development, it’s naturally influenced by her size, resources, capabilities, comparative advantages, and willingness to make a change. But ultimately it is determined by her populace’s collective wisdom, hard work, and the government’s efficacy. In order to make valuable contribution, the country needs to stay open-minded and learn from the best in the world. Under the circumstances, strategic thinking and a long-term vision need to be emphasized while being cautious about the current situation, and carefully treading a path to our shared future.

Energy Foundation China is looking forward to working with everyone and anyone to promote China’s long-term strategy for decarbonization, the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, and Track II cooperation.

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