Can the US Work With China on Climate, While Also Competing With It?

Fareed

Noting the US–China climate-cooperation pledge announced this week, Fareed writes in his latest Washington Post column that this is a positive step—“but, for now, a very small” one.

Given “years of strained relations between Washington and Beijing,” Fareed writes, it remains an open question whether the two superpowers can cooperate on climate while pursuing their rivalry in other corners.

It’s also not entirely clear how the US will approach its competition with China, more broadly: When Fareed asked US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan last week, Sullivan indicated the US wanted both to shape the international order to advantage like-minded democracies and to maintain the openness of that system.

It will be a difficult balance, Fareed writes, cautioning: “To my mind, the central lesson of the Cold War is that what allowed the United States to ultimately prevail was … building an open international system that secured peace, prosperity and freedom and allowed all who participated to thrive and prosper. Were that central achievement of American foreign policy to be sacrificed to gain some temporary tactical advantage against Beijing, it would be a mistake and a historic tragedy.”

Is US–China Conflict Inevitable?

The noted realist international-relations thinker John J. Mearsheimer recently warned in a Foreign Affairs essay that the US and China are destined for conflict—given that large, competing powers must always butt heads, in Mearsheimer’s view. Not everyone agrees: For instance, Fareed has argued such a prediction ignores the interdependence that makes confrontation undesirable for both superpowers.

At Project Syndicate, economist Dani Rodrik offers more counterpoints: The US isn’t as expansionist and bellicose as some think, Rodrik argues—an American political current “dismissively labeled as ‘isolationism’” acts as a counterweight—and US–China communication can help avoid misperceptions across the Pacific and, thus, war. “The structure of great-power rivalry may exclude a world of love and harmony,” Rodrik writes, “but it does not necessitate a world of immutable conflict.”

Pakistan, the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s Future

As the world watches and wonders about the future of Afghanistan—particularly, whether a burgeoning humanitarian crisis will worsen amid economic collapse, and whether the Taliban will pivot to inclusive government—a few related developments in the region are drawing concern. First, a recent Wall Street Journal report validated some extant fears, indicating IS-K (the ISIS faction prevalent in Afghanistan) has gained support among some former members of the previous Afghan government’s military and intelligence services. At Foreign Policy, Lynne O’Donnell writes that political divisions are emerging among the Taliban, while some predict Pakistan will play the spoiler, by working to enhance those divisions or by providing a boost to other groups.

Though Pakistan has reached a ceasefire deal with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), Syed Irfan Ashraf warns in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn that TTP leaders could take a “lenient” approach to IS-K—and that reports of broken promises by the Afghan Taliban aren’t helping. “Making a mockery of the Doha deal,” Ashraf writes, “these blatant abuses challenge the idea of a ‘reformed Taliban’, and reinforce IS power, turning the region into a powder keg.”

Breaking the Coal Habit

On the topic of China and climate change, that country’s reliance on coal has been widely noted as a major obstacle to a global green transition. At ChinaFile, experts say it’s possible for China to move away from coal, but the question is whether it can do so quickly. (As noted in ChinaFile’s roundup, China is a leader in renewable-energy development, but Beijing has signaled it won’t begin distancing itself from the dirtiest fuel source until its next five-year plan in 2026.)

At Der Spiegel, an essay by Frank Dohmen, Georg Fahrion, Claus Hecking, Jan Puhl, Fritz Schaap and Gerald Traufetter notes that although coal prices spiked beginning in 2020, and “[d]espite all the lip service about phasing it out by world leaders, coal is experiencing a breathtaking renaissance. And it has gone largely unnoticed by the public in many locations around the world.” Coal remains embedded in economies and political systems, they write; smoothing economic transitions away from coal is important, but some have argued that instituting carbon prices in the US, EU, and China is the only way to break the habit.

… and Cleaning Up Clean Energy

Clean energy has a dirty secret, Jens Glüsing, Simon Hage, Alexander Jung, Nils Klawitter and Stefan Schultz write for the same magazine: Green technologies like electric cars and wind turbines are made with rare-earth metals and thus depend on “brutal encroachments on our natural world.” Copper, zinc, and aluminum—but also lithium, cobalt, nickel, platinum, and bauxite—will all be necessary for a global green transition, and some of them are mined in destitute places, in less-than-sustainable fashion.

“[I]t begs the question,” they write: “How clean are green technologies really?” To address the problem, some green-tech producers are hoping to build their electric cars, wind turbines, and batteries with recycled rare-earth materials.

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